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Georgia Dems will knock on doors with Senate at stake

Politico -

With the Senate majority hanging in the balance and coronavirus cases spiking, Georgia Democrats have resurrected a hallmark of their pre-pandemic campaigning: knocking on voters' doors.

Democrats largely halted the practice earlier this year, but the party's candidates this week returned to in-person canvassing in the Peach State as they seek to juice turnout in two critical runoff elections on Jan. 5. The new efforts are being coordinated between the two Democratic campaigns and follow strict health guidelines created in consultation with an epidemiologist.

The transition back to door-to-door canvassing comes after a November election marked by asymmetrical tactics: Democratic candidates generally moved their mobilization efforts online and over the phone, while many Republican campaigns still worked the doors to contact voters.

Both sides recognize that turning out their bases in Georgia will be paramount, and as a result their efforts are focused less on persuading undecided voters and more on getting supporters to the polls or to return absentee ballots. It’s why the two Democratic candidates — Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock — and a litany of outside groups are set to resurrect door-knocking despite the health concerns.

Miryam Lipper, a spokesperson for Ossoff, and Terrence Clark, a spokesperson for Warnock, said in a joint statement the campaigns would pivot and knock on doors over the next six weeks because the stakes of turning out voters “could not be higher.”

“In close consultation with public health experts and an epidemiologist, we’ve created an in-person voter contact program with strict protocols that will allow organizers and volunteers to safely register new voters and knock doors across the state,” Lipper and Clark said. “This work is especially important for ensuring voters in communities of color, who have been left behind in the past, have the information they need to vote.”

The move underscores how critical turnout will be for the two runoffs: After the November elections, Republicans have captured 50 seats in the Senate to Democrats' 48, and Democrats would control the majority if they win both races, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking ties once she is inaugurated. The result will have a major impact on President-elect Joe Biden’s first two years in office.

Some liberal activists questioned the decision to leave in-person voter contact in the run-up to November mostly to Republicans, who outperformed expectations downballot, even as President Donald Trump was defeated in the presidential race. But now Democrats say they can canvass safely, even as Covid-19 cases surge across Georgia and nationwide.

The Ossoff and Warnock campaigns require volunteers to wear masks at all times, to step six feet back from doors before anyone answers, to use hand sanitizer after touching any surfaces and to affirm that they are free of any symptoms and have not been in contact with anyone suspected or confirmed of being positive for Covid-19 before their shifts.

The campaigns' epidemiologist trained the field staff leadership on the safety guidelines, according to the coordinated campaign. The campaigns also have a full-time staffer ensuring safety protocols are followed.

The campaigns aren’t alone in their efforts. Some progressive organizations, including the Working Families Party, returned to in-person canvassing in the state this weekend. And the Georgia state Democratic Party this week is launching in-person canvassing specifically for ballot curing, an effort to help voters with any issues with absentee ballots, which are being mailed as early as this week. That program will run through the days following the Jan. 5 runoffs.

Door-knocking protocols were in flux for a number of grassroots groups, which weighed the merits of potentially putting canvassers at risk while finding ways to mobilize the hard-to-reach voters Democrats need to win in January.

“It’s a heightened awareness that we need to do everything that we can to keep ourselves safe, keep voters safe, but also to not lose credibility,” said Nse Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project. Ufot said her organization has had to be even more mindful of the risks involved with in-person outreach as Black voters, who make up roughly 30 percent of the Georgia electorate and typically account for half of Democrats' supporters, are among the most disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

“No one knows the risk more than we do,” Ufot continued. “And we also understand how important it is to make sure that voters show up in this moment.”

Earlier this month, Ossoff told POLITICO that his campaign was still exploring how to stand up a safe field operation, but he emphasized the campaign’s phone-banking efforts and other ways to reach voters that don’t involve in-person contact.

“The team is still working through all the health implications and making sure our volunteers and our workers, and most of all voters, are kept safe and healthy by whatever we’re doing,” Ossoff said.

Democrats’ new effort comes as multiple Republican groups have already begun canvassing voters. The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and Women Speak Out PAC, which is affiliated with anti-abortion group SBA List, are running door-knocking programs in the state. The National Republican Senatorial Committee announced a massive field program for the two runoffs including 21 regional directors and 1,000 field staff across the state.

Democrats have been organizing on the ground, but most groups halted their door-knocking programs after the outbreak of the pandemic. Other groups adjusted their protocols to deal with the new environment.

“It actually took months for us to get to the place where we developed careful and substantive precautions where risks were low,” said Liz Cattaneo, a spokesperson for For Our Future, a grassroots political action group that led in-person field operations in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan and Florida.

According to Cattaneo, the group didn’t just emphasize the use of personal protective equipment; they hired a full-time, in-house health director who spearheaded mandatory health training sessions for all organizers. Cattaneo said none of its organizers this year contracted the coronavirus.

Britney Whaley, a senior political strategist at the Working Families Party in Georgia, said the group’s goal was to knock on 750,000 doors. She said their protocols include canvassers wearing masks and bringing additional masks with them for the voters in their homes, and leaving literature if the voter doesn’t want to put on a mask.

“It's always felt important to meet people where they are, which is in their homes and in their communities,” Whaley said. “We wanted to make sure that we talked to our people and communicate with them the best way we know how, while keeping them safe.”

Warnock’s opponent in the special election, appointed GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler, was self-isolating after testing positive for Covid-19 over the weekend, though the senator has since revealed that she tested negative two days in a row and plans to return to the campaign trail. Loeffler on Friday campaigned alongside Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), her counterpart in the runoffs, and Vice President Mike Pence, heightening concerns about possibly spreading the virus.

In the wake of Loeffler’s Covid-19 exposure, Ossoff called on both Loeffler and Perdue to require masks to be worn at their campaign events. Both senators have held several indoor events where attendees are largely mask-less, a practice that health officials say accelerates the spread of the virus. The campaigns provided masks but did not require them at their kickoff rallies in the state earlier this month.

On Monday, Perdue appeared alongside just-reelected Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) in an open field, with attendees mostly spaced out, according to photos from the event.

David Dinkins, New York's first Black mayor, dies at 93

Politico -

NEW YORK — David Dinkins, who broke barriers as New York City’s first African-American mayor, but was doomed to a single term by a soaring murder rate, stubborn unemployment and his mishandling of a race riot in Brooklyn, has died. He was 93.

Dinkins died Monday, the New York City Police Department confirmed. The department said officers were called to the former mayor’s home this evening. Initial indications were that he died of natural causes.

Dinkins, a calm and courtly figure with a penchant for tennis and formal wear, was a dramatic shift from both his predecessor, Ed Koch, and his successor, Rudolph Giuliani — two combative and often abrasive politicians in a city with a world-class reputation for impatience and rudeness.

In his inaugural address, he spoke lovingly of New York as a “gorgeous mosaic of race and religious faith, of national origin and sexual orientation, of individuals whose families arrived yesterday and generations ago, coming through Ellis Island or Kennedy Airport or on buses bound for the Port Authority.”

But the city he inherited had an ugly side, too.

AIDS, guns and crack cocaine killed thousands of people each year. Unemployment soared. Homelessness was rampant. The city faced a $1.5 billion budget deficit.

Dinkins’ low-key, considered approach quickly came to be perceived as a flaw. Critics said he was too soft and too slow.

“Dave, Do Something!” screamed one New York Post headline in 1990, Dinkins’ first year in office.

Dinkins did a lot at City Hall. He raised taxes to hire thousands of police officers. He spent billions of dollars revitalizing neglected housing. His administration got the Walt Disney Corp. to invest in the cleanup of then-seedy Times Square.

In recent years, he’s gotten more credit for those accomplishments — credit that Mayor Bill de Blasio said he should have always had. De Blasio, who worked in Dinkins’ administration, named Manhattan’s Municipal Building after the former mayor in October 2015.

Results from those accomplishments, however, didn’t come fast enough to earn Dinkins a second term.

After beating Giuliani by only by 47,000 votes out of 1.75 million cast in 1989, Dinkins lost a rematch by roughly the same margin in 1993.

Political historians often trace the defeat to Dinkins’ handling of the Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn in 1991.

The violence began after a black 7-year-old boy was accidentally killed by a car in the motorcade of an Orthodox Jewish religious leader. During the three days of anti-Jewish rioting by young black men that followed, a rabbinical student was fatally stabbed. Nearly 190 people were hurt.

A state report issued in 1993, an election year, cleared Dinkins of the persistently repeated charge that he intentionally held back police in the first days of the violence, but criticized him for not stepping up as a leader.

In a 2013 memoir, Dinkins accused the police department of letting the disturbance get out of hand, and also took a share of the blame, on the grounds that “the buck stopped with me.” But he bitterly blamed his election defeat on prejudice: “I think it was just racism, pure and simple.”

Born in Trenton, New Jersey, on July 10, 1927, Dinkins moved with his mother to Harlem when his parents divorced, but returned to his hometown to attend high school. There, he learned an early lesson in discrimination: Blacks were not allowed to use the school swimming pool.

During a hitch in the Marine Corps as a young man, a Southern bus driver barred him from boarding a segregated bus because the section for blacks was filled.

“And I was in my country’s uniform!” Dinkins recounted years later.

While attending Howard University, the historically black university in Washington, D.C., Dinkins said he gained admission to segregated movie theaters by wearing a turban and faking a foreign accent.

Back in New York with a degree in mathematics, Dinkins married his college sweetheart, Joyce Burrows, in 1953. His father-in-law, a power in local Democratic politics, channeled Dinkins into a Harlem political club. Dinkins paid his dues as a Democratic functionary while earning a law degree from Brooklyn Law School, and then went into private practice.

He got elected to the state Assembly in 1965, became the first black president of the city’s Board of Elections in 1972 and went on to serve as Manhattan borough president.

Dinkins’ election as mayor in 1989 came after two racially charged cases that took place under Koch: the rape of a white jogger in Central Park and the bias murder of a black teenager in Bensonhurst.

Dinkins defeated Koch, 50 percent to 42 percent, in the Democratic primary. But in a city where party registration was 5-to-1 Democratic, Dinkins barely scraped by the Republican Giuliani in the general election, capturing only 30 percent of the white vote.

His administration had one early high note: Newly freed Nelson Mandela made New York City his first stop in the U.S. in 1990. Dinkins had been a longtime, outspoken critic of apartheid in South Africa.

In that same year, though, Dinkins was criticized for his handling of a black-led boycott of Korean-operated grocery stores in Brooklyn. Critics contended Dinkins waited too long to intervene. He ultimately ended up crossing the boycott line to shop at the stores — but only after Koch did.

During Dinkins’ tenure, the city’s finances were in rough shape because of a recession that cost New York 357,000 private-sector jobs in his first three years in office.

Meanwhile, the city’s murder toll soared to an all-time high, with a record 2,245 homicides during his first year as mayor. There were 8,340 New Yorkers killed during the Dinkins administration — the bloodiest four-year stretch since the New York Police Department began keeping statistics in 1963.

In the last years of his administration, record-high homicides began a decline that continued for decades. In the first year of the Giuliani administration, murders fell from 1,946 to 1,561.

One of Dinkins’ last acts in 1993 was to sign an agreement with the United States Tennis Association that gave the organization a 99-year lease on city land in Queens in return for building a tennis complex. That deal guaranteed that the U.S. Open would remain in New York City for decades.

After leaving office, Dinkins was a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

He had a pacemaker inserted in August 2008, and underwent an emergency appendectomy in October 2007. He also was hospitalized in March 1992 for a bacterial infection that stemmed from an abscess on the wall of his large intestine. He was treated with antibiotics and recovered in a week.

Dinkins is survived by his son, David Jr.; and daughter, Donna and two grandchildren. His wife, Joyce, died in October at the age of 89.

Biden’s choice for secretary of Defense still in flux

Politico -

President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team unveiled his picks for top national security positions on Monday. But one post was notably absent from the list: secretary of Defense.

Biden-watchers and national security veterans saw the omission as a sign that Michèle Flournoy, the woman who has been rumored for months to be a shoo-in for Biden’s Pentagon chief, might not have a lock on the job after all.

While Flournoy is still a strong contender, six people close to the transition say Biden is not entirely sold on the woman who was widely seen as Hillary Clinton’s pick for Defense secretary if she had won the presidency in 2016.

Two former Obama White House officials who remain close to Biden said he never developed the kind of strong personal relationship with Flournoy that he has sought in his Cabinet picks, and once the dust settled after the election, Biden began leaning toward exploring other options.

Another top contender is Jeh Johnson, Obama’s second secretary of Homeland Security, the people said. He would be the first Black Defense secretary in an administration that has promised a diverse Cabinet.

“Michèle is still at the top of the list but they still want to keep looking — and that’s a change,” said a former senior national security official tracking the transition closely. The sense is: “Let’s not be rushed here.”

Johnson and Flournoy did not respond to requests for comment. The Biden transition team declined to comment.

Biden is also under pressure to look elsewhere in part due to Flournoy’s ties to the defense industry — she has worked for multiple defense consulting firms and in 2017 co-founded WestExec Advisers, which helps defense companies market their products to the Pentagon — and her support for Obama’s Afghanistan surge, a move that Biden opposed.

The selection on Monday of Tony Blinken as Biden’s secretary of State could further cloud her prospects. The two co-founded WestExec, a strategic consulting firm that keeps its client list a closely guarded secret.

The think tank she co-founded, the Center for a New American Security, also relies heavily on funding from defense contractors.

Although Flournoy is widely seen as the person most qualified for the job, her years of experience in the Pentagon and defense community may actually work against her. Some members of the Biden team are concerned Flournoy, who served as Obama’s Pentagon policy chief, is too entrenched to enact progressive change.

“Have you just been there too long? Do you know too many people? And are you unable to enact the kind of progressive change Biden is looking for?” said the former national security official who is tracking the transition closely. “Everyone in the defense policy world loves Michèle, and in a weird way I think it gives you some pause.”

Progressives, who have pressured Biden to also represent the left wing of the Democratic Party in his Cabinet, raised more questions on Monday about Flournoy’s views.

“Flournoy supported the war in Iraq & Libya, criticized Obama on Syria, and helped craft the surge in Afghanistan,” tweeted Rep. Ro Khanna, who was a co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the White House. “I want to support the President’s picks. But will Flournoy now commit to a full withdrawal from Afghanistan & a ban on arms sales to the Saudis to end the Yemen war?”

Flournoy seems attuned to the concern. She held a conference call with progressive organizations shortly before the election to hear them out and commit to more rigorous review of arms sales to countries with spotty human rights records.

There also appears to be a behind-the-scenes effort to raise her profile. A group of military family organizations endorsed her over the weekend for the top job, saying she has “undisputed expertise on a wide variety of subjects at the Defense Department.”

A former government official who is in close contact with the Biden transition team said Johnson, who also served as general counsel at the Defense Department in Obama’s first term, has been under consideration in recent weeks for three jobs: attorney general, director of national intelligence and Defense secretary.

The selection of Avril Haines on Monday to be the DNI leaves him in the running for the other two spots, the former official said.

Yet Johnson's own ties could raise concerns; he's a member of Lockheed Martin's board of directors.

The former officials also pointed out that while Flournoy remains a strong candidate, she has had some policy differences with Biden, particularly over U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan.

Flournoy played a leading role as undersecretary of defense for policy in 2009 in advancing Obama’s surge of military forces in Afghanistan that was proposed by the commander at the time, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Then-Vice President Biden opposed the move, pushing for a much smaller counterterrorism force, but he was ultimately overruled.

“She was aligned with McChrystal and others’ take that we need more forces and Biden was not in favor of that specific approach,” said the former government official who is close to the transition.

Flournoy recently said that if she could do it all over again, she would ask more questions, especially about the capacity of the Afghans to consolidate any military gains.

“I think we went in believing we had a different kind of partner in the Afghan government than we actually did,” she said on a podcast with McChrystal, who is also advising Biden.

Not everyone believes that Flournoy's future is in doubt.

“We shouldn’t read too much into the timing," said Richard Fontaine, CEO of CNAS. "In its short tenure, this is already shaping up as a deliberate and careful transition team. I’m certain we’ll know the next round of appointees soon enough.”

Trump strips Biden’s options to boost the economy

Politico -

Joe Biden is entering the White House with big hopes of juicing the economy with new spending and a Federal Reserve ready to unleash its arsenal of lending programs to prevent the country from slipping back into a recession.

He might get none of it.

A rare public spat between the Trump administration and the Fed last week exposed the stark reality of the economic policy ammunition Biden will inherit: a stick rather than a bazooka.

With Biden’s Democrats in danger of failing to win the Senate and a new era of gridlock on the way in Washington, all eyes are on the Fed to pump up the economy in the face of congressional intransigence.

But interest rates are already at zero. The Fed has given billions in aid to companies and municipalities, but it’s not putting money in consumers’ pockets, which is what millions of Americans need most. And Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s move last week to wind down most of the emergency lending programs that the Fed introduced at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic for the time being deprives the central bank of one of its most direct ways of boosting the economy.

“It is not that the Fed is out of firepower,” said Ernie Tedeschi, policy economist at Evercore ISI. “It’s just that the Fed is really reaching down deeper and deeper into its toolkit, and it has tools that are less effective than the tools that it’s already used.”

Much of the work on Biden’s behalf will fall to Janet Yellen, his pick to be Treasury secretary. The former Fed chair will bring her deep knowledge of the central bank’s toolkit, from her lengthy experience inside the Fed system, to partner with her former Fed colleague, current Chair Jerome Powell.

The most direct way the Fed could increase its aid to the economy is through two temporary lending programs designed to help midsized businesses and municipal governments — two of the programs Mnuchin is shutting down at the end of the year. Though Yellen, if confirmed, could at least partially reopen them, the terms of the CARES Act — the massive spending program approved by Congress at the onset of the pandemic in March — potentially limit the secretary’s authority to send more funds to cover losses from Fed loans after the end of the year.

Both programs have only doled out a small portion of their available funds, in part because the Fed and the Treasury Department designed them so the government wouldn’t lose much money on the loans. Yellen could also increase that risk appetite. But Mnuchin has now moved to significantly reduce the pot of money that’s going to be available to lend, arguing that the programs were no longer necessary, drawing a backlash from the Biden camp.

“The Treasury Department’s attempt to prematurely end support that could be used for small businesses across the country when they are facing the prospect of new shutdowns is deeply irresponsible,” Biden spokesperson Kate Bedingfield said in a statement. “At this fragile moment, as the COVID and economic crises are re-accelerating, we should be reinforcing the government’s ability to respond and support the economy - not undermining it.”

Mnuchin, for his part, defended the move as adhering to congressional intent that the programs stop making new loans at the end of the year, a legal interpretation that is disputed.

“This is not a political issue,” he told CNBC.

That will make things tougher for Biden, although all the central bank can really offer vulnerable industries is help in building up debt more cheaply — a bridge to the other side of the crisis, rather than a long-term solution. Republicans will probably block his most ambitious spending programs, as they did with President Barack Obama in the years after the 2008 financial crisis.

Biden's problems will be compounded by the scheduled expiration of millions of Americans‘ unemployment benefits at the end of the year, including many who were spared from eviction by a moratorium imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that runs out at the same time.

“It’s just frustrating that [Congress] couldn’t get this done,” Sheila Bair, who headed the FDIC during the 2008 crisis, said of another round of economic aid. “The Fed’s been heroic in these interventions, but monetary policy is just not a good mechanism for channeling money to households.”

Said Seth Carpenter, chief U.S. economist at UBS: “Pre-Covid, central bankers were saying, ‘We want more fiscal policy. We’re growing but it’s sluggish.' That was pre-Covid. Then you had the worst shock anybody’s seen, so it seems like it can only reinforce that pre-Covid perspective. Central bankers were already saying monetary policy can’t do it all by itself.”

“It’s got to help what they’re doing, but it just takes years to get back” to where we were, he added.

In the meantime, the central bank will do what it can. Markets will be watching to see if the Fed further ramps up its bond purchases to help keep longer-term borrowing costs low, to encourage businesses to make longer-term investments.

The administration itself is limited in what it can do without more spending from Congress. There aren’t many immediate options for the Biden team to further aid the economy without more funding from Congress, beyond temporary relief like tax deferrals or smaller scale structural changes that will only help over the long run.

But Yellen, if confirmed, could work to boost the confidence of businesses worried about how they’ll be treated and uncertain about new regulations, said Karen Dynan, an economics professor at Harvard University.

“You don’t want businesses just to get stuck where they are in not wanting to expand or rehire workers or make investments because they don’t know what’s coming down the road from Washington,” Dynan said.

The secretive consulting firm that’s become Biden’s Cabinet in waiting

Politico -

The website for WestExec Advisors includes a map depicting West Executive Avenue, the secure road on the White House grounds between the West Wing and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, as a way to show what the consulting firm can do for its clients.

“It is, quite literally, the road to the Situation Room, and it is the road everyone associated with WestExec Advisors has crossed many times en route to meetings of the highest national security consequences,” the firm says.

And staffers are poised to cross it again — en masse.

The firm, which now looks like a government-in-waiting for the next administration, was founded in 2017 by Tony Blinken, President-elect Joe Biden’s choice for secretary of State, and Michèle Flournoy, a top contender for secretary of Defense. And one of its former principals, Avril Haines, is Biden’s pick for director of national intelligence.

But little is known about WestExec’s client list. Because its staffers aren’t lobbyists, they are not required to disclose whom they work for. They also aren’t bound by the Biden transition’s restrictions on hiring people who have lobbied in the past year.

The firm is seen as emblematic of “the unintended consequence” of greater disclosure requirements for registered lobbyists, said Mandy Smithberger, director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project on Government Oversight.

“They avoid becoming registered lobbyists or foreign agents and are instead becoming strategic consultants,” she said.

WestExec is loaded with other former top Democratic national security and foreign policy officials who raised money for the Biden campaign, have joined his transition team, or have served as unofficial advisers.

At least 21 of the 38 WestExec employees listed on the firm’s website donated to the Biden campaign; Flournoy alone raised more than $100,000.

Five WestExec staffers — all veterans of the Obama administration — are on leave from the firm to help staff Biden’s review teams for the Pentagon, the Treasury Department, the Council of Economic Advisers and other agencies, which are charged with coordinating the transfer of power between outgoing Trump officials and Biden’s appointees.

Two other WestExec principals were among those who briefed Biden last week on national security: Bob Work, who served as deputy secretary of Defense in the Obama administration and was asked to remain on for the first few months of the Trump administration, and David Cohen, a former deputy director of both the CIA and the Treasury Department who is also in the running for a top post.

Meanwhile, Jen Psaki, a former White House communications director under President Barack Obama who went on to work for WestExec, is now advising Biden’s transition team. And two other former WestExec hands, Lisa Monaco and Julianne Smith, are considered potential Biden administration hires.

In fact, WestExec was so prepared to storm a new Democratic West Wing that the firm negotiated a clause when renting its office space that states it can break the lease if members are called back to public service, the American Prospect reported this month.

WestExec is one of a number of Washington consulting firms staffed by former diplomats, military officers and former White House aides that often “serve as the government in waiting for the party that’s out of power,” said Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, a Washington good government group.

And it’s not the only such firm with ties to the Biden campaign or transition.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, whom Biden tapped on Tuesday as his ambassador to the United Nations, is a senior vice president at the Albright Stonebridge Group, the “commercial diplomacy firm” started by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Biden’s agency review teams also include at least three other Albright Stonebridge staffers.

Nelson Cunningham, meanwhile, a co-founder of “private sector diplomacy” firm McLarty Associates, which has done consulting for clients such as Chevron and Walmart, was a Biden campaign bundler and has informally advised Biden’s team on policy.

There’s nothing wrong with people who work at such firms going into the administration, McGehee said. But she urged Blinken and other potential Biden Cabinet picks who’ve worked at firms such as WestExec to go further than the law requires by publicly disclosing any clients for which they have done significant work. (Biden’s appointees will have to disclose their most recent clients once they go into government, but not older ones.)

Yet the ties between clients and members remain opaque because of minimal enforcement of the influence industry in Washington, making it nearly impossible to know what specific projects they have consulted on or who or what agencies they met with.

The firm’s co-founders have also been reluctant to discuss their consulting work publicly.

POLITICO asked Flournoy in a recent interview to discuss how WestExec Advisors might influence a Biden administration; all she would say is that the firm is not a purely Democratic outfit.

“We also have a number of important Republicans,” Flournoy said, citing Meghan O'Sullivan, a former National Security Council official who worked for President George W. Bush.

Another senior adviser on the WestExec roster is Elbridge Colby, a former assistant secretary of Defense in the Trump administration who gave $500 to the president’s reelection campaign.

Flournoy has spoken a bit about WestExec’s work with Silicon Valley startups to land contracts at the Pentagon, where she sees a need to better leverage new technologies that are not necessarily the forte of larger, more traditional defense contractors.

“The name of the game is how do you enable the Department of Defense to really access that cutting-edge commercial technology and adapt it to military purposes,” Flournoy said in a 2019 podcast interview at the University of Chicago. “It is one of the things that WestExec is trying to help with. How do you let these smaller, cutting-edge technology firms actually navigate the DoD and national security space?”

Both WestExec and the Biden transition team declined to provide any additional information on the identity of the firm’s clients. And the Biden transition deferred questions to WestExec.

A person familiar with WestExec’s inner workings, however, said Haines’ engagement with the firm “was minimal — averaging less than a day a month over the two years she served as a consultant.”

“The most significant project she did for them was a public report sponsored by Open Philanthropy Project on testing and evaluating deep learning systems,” the person said.

Still, WestExec has come under fire in recent days from progressive and watchdog groups that are concerned that Flournoy has been too cozy with the defense industry, citing donations to the think tank she co-founded, the Center for a New American Security, and her work for the Boston Consulting Group.

Most recently the Project on Government Oversight published a critique of Flournoy by two former veteran defense policy wonks citing all three of those affiliations, as well as her perch on the board of Booz Allen Hamilton, a major Pentagon contractor.

But an employee for WestExec pushed back on POGO’s claim that WestExec is “helping defense corporations market their products to the Pentagon and other agencies.”

“The most significant part of the business centers on assisting U.S. companies with global footprints navigate geopolitical risks,” said the person, who asked not to be named in order to discuss internal matters.

A spokesperson for Flournoy, meanwhile, also told POLITICO that in her previous job at the Boston Consulting Group, which is a strategic partner of WestExec, Flournoy “was not involved in business development with DOD, full stop; that would have been a violation of her Obama Administration ethics agreement.”

Meanwhile, at Booz Allen Hamilton, Flournoy also “has no involvement in contracting or business development with any client, including the U.S. government,” the spokesperson said.

But for WestExec, at least, the ties to Biden have become an increasingly powerful selling point, boasting that it’s “bringing the full power of our network to bear in helping clients navigate rapidly emerging challenges and opportunities,” as its website states.

In its most recent rundown of media exposure, the firm also highlighted a number of members of the WestExec team who have been quoted or interviewed talking about Biden’s likely plans related to Israel, Iran and U.S.-Asia relations.

Work, the former deputy Defense secretary who briefed Biden last week, makes no secret of his ties to the president-elect and his most trusted advisers.

“I talk with, obviously I know, almost everyone on the campaign personally, right?” he recently told POLITICO.

Dem divide over Confederate bases threatens massive defense bill

Politico -

An internal fight over renaming military bases that honor Confederates has broken out among House Democrats — turning pointed and personal in recent days and threatening to doom the popular bipartisan provision.

All Democrats — and many Republicans — support scrubbing the names of Confederate leaders from military facilities. But the provision in the annual defense policy bill has caused a splinter within the Democratic Caucus as lawmakers weigh what’s more important — axing the language and ensuring the $740 billion bill is passed on time, or forcing the issue, all but guaranteeing a showdown with Republicans and President Donald Trump, who has threatened to veto the bill if it remains.

"There's a disagreement among members on this,” Rep. Anthony Brown of Maryland, a top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Monday. “If there was ever a reason to delay the reauthorization until we get it right, it certainly would be one of them."

Democrats have just a couple of weeks to reconcile their differences in the waning days of this Congress or risk breaking a nearly six-decade streak of sending an annual defense policy bill to the president’s desk.

Some Democrats are privately worried that House Armed Services Chair Adam Smith is more concerned with a timely passage of his bill than eliminating a shameful remnant of the nation’s pro-slavery past at a time when America is undergoing a reckoning over racial justice.

Smith vehemently disputed this accusation, calling it “absolutely not true.” The Washington state Democrat also underscored the importance of passing the defense policy legislation before the end of the year.

"I have no intention whatsoever of dropping this in order to get a bill passed,” Smith said in an interview Monday. “We'll have to see what offers are made and what's out there.”

“It's not just the CBC or leadership. It's a pretty strong caucus position that the bases ought to be renamed,” Smith added. “There is no justification at this point in our history to continue to have bases renamed after people who rose up in armed rebellion against the United States in order to preserve slavery."

Democrats’ latest effort to broker a compromise came Sunday as Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a call with Smith, Brown, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and CBC Chair Karen Bass (D-Calif.) to figure out a way forward.

Pelosi and Hoyer have been adamant in insisting the Confederate base provision is included in the final version of the defense bill currently being negotiated by House and Senate conferees.

And Democrats ended the call Sunday agreeing that preserving the language — despite Trump’s veto threat and a rapidly ticking clock — is of top importance. Smith and Brown are working together this week on potential compromise language that maintains the integrity of the provision but that Republicans will also support. Their goal is to send that language to Democratic leaders by Thanksgiving.

The National Defense Authorization Act provides a blueprint for military policy and spending and is one of the few major bills that becomes law every year. Lawmakers have enacted the defense bill for 59 consecutive years.

Leaders from the House and Senate Armed Services committees are aiming to draft a compromise bill that’s ready for a vote in early December. But Republican resistance on base names is complicating the talks, though provisions to strip Confederate names from military assets had been included in both House and Senate bills earlier this year.

Trump has threatened to veto any defense bill that would force the renaming of 10 Army bases that bear the names of Confederate leaders and has labeled the move an attempt to rewrite U.S. history. Senate Armed Services Chair Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a Trump ally, backs the president and is pushing to strip it from a final defense bill.

Both bills passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities over the summer and with enough votes to overturn a potential veto. But it's unclear if those bipartisan margins will hold — requiring Republicans to buck Trump — if the lame duck president makes good on his threat.

Republicans are in a particularly awkward position. GOP lawmakers defied Trump and overwhelmingly supported the defense bill, but have since stuck close to the commander-in-chief, with few even acknowledging President-elect Joe Biden's election victory.

“It depends on what language is in there. We’ll have to see,” said House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican, when asked whether Republicans would be willing to send Trump a bill that he would oppose. “It depends on what language is in there.”

The debate has caused a rift within the House as many Democrats say the question of whether to hold firm on the issue — even if it results in a public fight with Trump and potentially delaying passage of the bill until early next year — speaks to the core of Democratic values. And for many, especially Black and progressive lawmakers, it’s one of the only key legislative victories that might become law after a wave of national protests over the killing of George Floyd and other Black Americans by police.

Those Democrats worry that whatever compromise language is proposed will be too watered down to actually be effective and could be something as neutered as expressing support for renaming the bases and encouraging the incoming Biden administration to do so — but not actually requiring action.

"Those names, Confederate names, were put up there to sow division and hatred, to subjugate a people," Brown said. "We're not going to dilute this with some ... abstract notion about 'Oh, let's just promote peace and harmony and eliminate hatred.' ... It needs to be clear on that."

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a senior progressive and CBC member, said Democrats must ensure the provision remains in the bill “if people are committed, as I think members of our Democratic caucus are, to ending systemic racism.”

“What’s important is that we’ve got to fight,” Lee said, noting that she believes most Democrats will want to follow the lead of the CBC. “We’re standing firm on that. Let’s hope the Senate Republicans do the right thing.”

But some Democrats say even more can be done next year and that Biden can accomplish much of this on his own via an executive order. The former vice president backed efforts to rename the installations during the campaign.

And other Democrats say the party is spending so much time arguing with one other that they’re weakening their negotiating position on the issue — even though they’ve already secured bipartisan support on the idea. They say it’s the Republicans who should be squirming, not Democrats, since it’s a GOP president who’s attempting to preserve Confederate history against the wishes of his own party in order to satisfy his base.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats on the Armed Services Committee are essentially unified on keeping the language to rename bases as is, from progressives like Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to moderate Joe Manchin of West Virginia, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Warren and 36 Senate Democrats urged negotiators to keep the provisions in the final bill in a letter earlier this month. The top Senate Armed Services Democrat, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, said in an interview last week that the provision "has to be maintained" in the final bill.

The issue is a top priority for the Congressional Black Caucus, which unanimously voted last week to adopt a formal position requiring that any bill must have the renaming of any military property honoring the Confederacy within three years. With the two parties deadlocked over policing reform, the renaming of Confederate bases could be the most substantial language on justice for Black Americans signed into law this year.

The Senate bill would give the Pentagon three years to rename the bases. The more expedited House provision, authored by Brown and Nebraska Republican Don Bacon, would do so over just one year.

But even after House and Senate Republicans largely agreed to the renaming of Confederate bases this summer, there have been some new complications.

Smith said last week that House negotiators now back the slower Senate proposal to remove Confederate names over three years, but to no avail so far. He chided top Senate Republicans, who have indicated they won't approve a bill Trump will veto, for giving the president cover on the issue.

"Thus far, they are refusing to accept their own language," Smith said.

Still, he sounded an optimistic note that lawmakers can bridge their differences and pass a 60th consecutive defense bill on time.

“Just about every year with maybe one or two exceptions we run into things that appear intractable and then we find some way to make them tractable,” Smith said. “I don't know exactly what that is at the moment, but we're not giving up."

Burgess Everett and Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.

Bloomberg backs former Miami mayor to lead Florida Democrats

Politico -

Former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who earned a reputation as a turnaround artist in his home city, is campaigning for an even tougher job: leading the foundering Florida Democratic Party.

Diaz, who began making calls Friday to gauge support, has the backing of billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who is ready to open his wallet for the party again if Diaz is chair, even after dropping $100 million into a failed state effort to defeat President Donald Trump.

Local billionaire Jorge Pérez, who has good relations with former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, also has pledged his support.

“The idea for me is to rebuild the party by one precinct, one county at a time, bottom up and from the grassroots,” Diaz said in an interview. “I’m going to roll up my sleeves, put my head down and work my butt off.”

Diaz promised to raise the money needed to hire top talent, upgrade the party’s data operation, and turn it into a constant presence to register, engag and turn out voters in communities across the state.

It‘s a job others are running from. Democrats in Florida have been out of power in the state for more than two decades. They’ve lost four straight top-of-the-ticket races, culminating with Trump steamrolling Democrat Joe Biden on Nov. 3. Two incumbent Democrats were ousted from Congress that day, and down-ticket candidates took a beating.

The losses were so great that national Democratic leaders aren’t confident they can win the state in 2022, when Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Ron DeSantis, both Republicans, are up for re-election.

Other prominent Democrats — including former state Sen. Oscar Braynon and Sen. Annette Taddeo — have said they‘re not interested in the position.

Current Chair Terrie Rizzo has been sharply criticized in the aftermath of Election Day, which some Democrats have called a “bloodbath”, but she has yet to say if she would seek a new term. Rizzo’s term expires early next year.

Diaz, who is eligible for the post as a member of the Democratic National Committee’s finance committee, said he knows he’ll have to earn the job. And while money can’t fix the party’s problems, he intends to make fundraising a top job, starting with Bloomberg and Perez.

“No one is better suited for Florida Democratic Party chair than Manny Diaz,” Bloomberg said in a written statement to POLITICO. “Manny ran the largest city in the state and intimately knows the districts and communities that Democrats lost this cycle. He is an inclusive leader who will expand the map and help us turn Florida blue again.”

Bloomberg and other big donors are necessary to return the party to relevancy. State Democrats were so hard up for money this year that the party sought aid from a government-backed program for small businesses. The party eventually returned the roughly $800,000 it received under the Paycheck Protection Program, but it couldn’t undo the political damage done to candidates who came under sustained attack over the loan.

Pérez said he’s prepared to help Diaz.

“Manny is the guy,” Pérez said in an interview. “A lot of dreamers don’t do anything and a lot of guys that do small things don’t dream. Manny has, like I said, that rare quality of combining them.”

Diaz, 66, immigrated to Florida from Cuba and rose to prominence during the 2000 drama surrounding Elián González, a Cuban boy found clinging to a raft off the coast of Florida. The Clinton administration‘s repatriation of González infuriated Cuban Americans. Diaz was there when federal marshals took González at gun point.

Diaz left the party in protest, but he was elected mayor the following year, serving until 2009. He returned to the party spoke at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Diaz was seen as such a political asset to Obama’s re-election campaign that it featured in him in an ad.

Taddeo said she is excited about Diaz’s decision to seek the state party’s top job.

“I’m very concerned a lot of the donor base and a lot of our national donors are ready to give up on Florida,” Taddeo said. “If we don’t show them we are making the necessary changes, that we getting our s--- together, we are not going to get the resources to be competitive.”

Diaz will help build a “Black and brown coalition” that will help Democrats regain power, she said.

Diaz’s selection, however, could disappoint some Democrats who have voiced support for naming a Black person to lead the party.

Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Miami Gardens Democrat and one of six Black state senators, said he‘s open to Diaz taking the helm and said it would be “great” to have either a Black or Hispanic leader.

“I am willing to work along with anyone who is going to move the Democratic Party the direction we need to go,” said Jones, who talked to Diaz for 20 minutes on Sunday. “We can’t keep going the direction we’re going.”

Leslie Wimes, a Democratic Party insider, said she is concerned that Trump increased his share of votes from Black males and she believes the party needs a Black woman to lead it.

“While Black women still came through for the party, we are tired of being overlooked when it comes to leadership,” she said. “The chair needs to be someone who represents the most loyal base for democrats: Black people.”

What the Yellen choice means for Biden and the economy

Politico -

In picking former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to serve as his first Treasury Secretary, Joe Biden is leaning on a well-known figure who is trusted and beloved by most Democrats, respected by many Republicans, acceptable to Wall Street and aligned with the no-surprises approach expected to be a hallmark of the incoming president’s tenure.

Yellen, widely seen as the obvious choice when Biden teased last week that he had made his pick, is slightly untraditional for Treasury. Her pre-government background came largely as an academic economist and monetary policy expert. The top Treasury slot often goes to people — until now all men — with extensive corporate backgrounds and high-profile international experience.

But Yellen has deep support throughout the Democratic Party — and among many Republicans — even if she was not sufficiently committed to the views of some on the far left. She also commands respect on Wall Street following her widely praised tenure as Fed chair, and before then as the central bank’s vice chair who often represented the Fed behind the scenes in international forums.

Perhaps most importantly, Yellen’s relationships with current Fed officials and knowledge of how the central bank can assist an economy still staggering from the coronavirus pandemic could prove critical to the incoming administration. Tim Geithner’s Fed background before he became Treasury secretary also helped then-President Barack Obama when he took office during the 2008-2009 financial crisis and recession.

Yellen would become the first person to hold the top posts at the Treasury Department, Fed and the White House Council of Economic Advisers, where she was chair in the Clinton administration.

It will be tough for Republicans — should they control the Senate in January — to stand in the way of Yellen’s swift confirmation given her background and groundbreaking nomination. The pick, along with others coming out this week, shows how Biden is leaning toward well-known and trusted officials for top jobs and avoiding surprises that could become early obstacles for his administration.

“It is remarkable to think of the depth and breadth of the respect she commands nationally and globally,” said Gene Sperling, a former top economic official in the Bill Clinton and Obama White Houses and an outside adviser to the Biden transition. “Through the years as both chair of the Council of Economic Advisors and at the Fed she has proven beyond any doubt that she is masterful at the broadest range of economic issues that will matter most right now — from emergency financial measures to the need for a bold fiscal response to labor market and tax policy. It is a brilliant choice.”

Biden last week said he’d made his choice for Treasury and that the pick “will be accepted by all elements of the Democratic Party, progressives through the moderate coalition.” That pointed directly to Yellen.

Other names on the list of potential candidates, including current Fed governor and former senior Treasury official Lael Brainard, lacked broad support among more progressive Democrats. POLITICO on Friday reported that multiple sources close to the Biden transition believed Yellen would be the pick.

Yellen irked some highly progressive Democrats by supporting very gentle interest-rate hikes late in her tenure in 2017 when the economy was growing and the Trump administration was pushing through a giant tax cut.

But the minimal hikes had broad support on Wall Street and in the economic community after the Fed spent nearly a decade with rates close to zero in the wake of the financial crisis. The hikes, continued under her successor Jerome Powell, were meant to get the Fed back to a more neutral stance and allow for fresh cuts when the economy hit trouble, as it did during the Covid-19 crisis.

For the most part, Yellen is considered a monetary policy “dove,” meaning she prefers keeping rates low to spur more hiring and faster job and wage growth without worrying too much about rising inflation.

Yellen is also widely known in Washington as a charming and funny policy maker with good relationships in both political parties. While she veers from the globe-trotting CEO credentials of some former Treasury secretaries before the past decade, she brings her own track record of management from leading the Fed in Washington and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

News of her coming nomination on Monday drew praise from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who called her “smart, tough and principled” and said “she has stood up to Wall Street banks.”
Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive who served as President Donald Trump’s National Economic Council director, said Yellen would be “the steady hand we need to promote an economy that works for everyone.”

Yellen is expected to play a central role on the incoming economic team’s efforts to craft a plan to nurse the economy through the latest surge in the Covid-19 crisis and until effective vaccines can be administered next year.

A GOP Senate may limit the fiscal stimulus Biden can pump into the economy, so having someone running Treasury who understands the role of monetary policy and the facilities available to the central bank to boost businesses and consumers will be critical.

In 2009, Geithner, who previously played a leading firefighting role in the financial crisis while serving as head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, helped guide the Obama team in shoring up the financial system and beginning a long economic recovery.

Progressive groups largely applauded the Yellen pick on Monday. “Janet Yellen was a historic, progressive choice for Fed Chair in 2013. If selected, she’ll be a historic, progressive choice for Treasury Secretary,” the left-leaning group Democracy for America tweeted.

Financial industry analysts and economists also largely praised the pick, citing Yellen’s experience at the central bank as critical to the incoming administration, especially as outgoing Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has forced the central bank to curtail some of its efforts to boost small business.

Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser at Allianz and former head of bond giant PIMCO, said it “would be hard to think today of anyone else for this role who would receive as much widespread support as Janet Yellen, and understandably so. A highly experienced and grounded policymaker, she comes with enormous credibility, knowledge of the domestic and international economic landscape, and a global Rolodex.”

“Yellen has had a stellar career and it's not over yet,” Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank, wrote in a note to clients. “One thing is for sure and that is there is unlikely to be as many Fed-Treasury spats, and not only because Janet Yellen is no pushover.”

Website Concocts False Story of Soros Arrest

FactCheck -

Quick Take

A bogus social media story uses a doctored image of an indictment to falsely claim George Soros has been arrested in the U.S. “for election interference.” The actual charges are against six Russian nationals for cyberattacks.

Full Story

A website with a track record of spreading misinformation is the source of a bogus story claiming that George Soros, the wealthy financier of progressive causes, has been “arrested” in Philadelphia for “election interference.”

There has been no such arrest.

“George Soros Arrested in Philadelphia For Election Interference – Judge Orders Media Blackout,” reads the headline on Your News Wire.

But the Nov. 23 story — which logged nearly 5,000 shares on Facebook in its first day, according to CrowdTangle analytics data — uses a doctored image of a federal indictment to support its bogus claim.

“George Soros has been arrested and is currently being held in federal custody in Philadelphia,” the story falsely claims. “According to a recently unsealed indictment filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania, Soros has been charged with a number of serious crimes relating to the US election.”

Reverse image searches of the supposed indictment led us to a story about an indictment against six Russian nationals who are accused of high-profile cyberattacks.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced that indictment on Oct. 19, alleging that Russian intelligence officers sought, among other things, to undermine elections in France and undercut efforts “to hold Russia accountable for its use of a weapons-grade nerve agent.”

On Your News Wire, the image of the indictment was edited to remove the names of the Russian nationals and instead show Soros being charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and other charges. (Readers can move the slider at the end of the story to compare the bogus image to the real indictment.)

The false story further claims that the “FBI stated that the indictment will likely be updated to reflect election interference charges in relation to Dominion Voting, once the full scale of Soros’ operations has been exposed. Soros is currently being interrogated by the FBI.” (Dominion Voting Systems has been the subject of conspiracy theories following the Nov. 3 election.)

Soros has been a longtime target of misinformation.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here for more.


Rieder, Rem. “Trump Tweets Conspiracy Theory About Deleted Votes.” FactCheck.org. 13 Nov 2020.

Russian Vehicle Registration Leak Reveals Additional GRU Hackers.” Bellingcat. 22 Oct 2020.

Six Russian GRU Officers Charged in Connection with Worldwide Deployment of Destructive Malware and Other Disruptive Actions in Cyberspace.” Press release, U.S. Department of Justice. 19 Oct 2020.

United States of America v. Yuri Sergeyevich Andrienko, et. al. Indictment. U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. 15 Oct 2020.

The post Website Concocts False Story of Soros Arrest appeared first on FactCheck.org.

Trump relents as administration begins Biden transition

Politico -

More than two weeks after clinching electoral victory, President-elect Joe Biden can finally start his formal transition to the White House.

The General Services Administration has formally acknowledged Biden as the apparent winner of the 2020 presidential election, allowing his team to get working on the logistics of the transition, with President Donald Trump announcing the move in a tweet on Monday evening. By law, the president-elect cannot access federal transition funds or contact federal agencies to plan staffing until the GSA recognizes him as the electoral winner.

“I want to thank Emily Murphy at GSA for her steadfast dedication and loyalty to our Country,” Trump tweeted, referring to the head of the GSA. “She has been harassed, threatened, and abused — and I do not want to see this happen to her, her family, or employees of GSA. Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good...fight, and I believe we will prevail!”

He continued: “Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”

Some senior White House officials were unaware that Trump had cleared the way for the presidential transition to begin until they saw his tweet on Monday evening, which was drafted with input from the White House Counsel’s office, according to one official familiar with the discussions.

Those same officials said the president’s statement was inevitable amid the recent spate of certification deadlines for battleground states that President-elect Joe Biden won. Trump spent much of the weekend criticizing his legal team’s lackluster performance and soliciting advice from top confidants and campaign aides on what he should do next. One person familiar with those discussions said that “everyone but Rudy [Giuliani]” encouraged the president to greenlight the transition process while he continues to pursue legal options to challenge the election.

Despite news outlets and numerous foreign dignitaries recognizing Biden as the winner earlier this month, the GSA stayed silent on the next occupant of the White House, limiting Biden in his preparations.

“Today’s decision is a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track,” Yohannes Abraham, transition executive director for Biden, said in a statement on Monday.

Abraham added that the team would use the coming days to “discuss the pandemic response, have a full accounting of our national security interests, and gain complete understanding of the Trump administration’s efforts to hollow out government agencies.”

In a letter to the Biden team, Murphy insisted that her delay in recognizing his electoral win was not because of personal or political pressures. Murphy said she had received threats against her and her loved ones if she did not start the transition, but held off based on precedent relating to incomplete counts and legal challenges to election results.

“I have dedicated much of my adult life to public service, and I have always strived to do what is right,” Murphy wrote. “Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts.”

CNN first reported Murphy‘s notice to Biden.

Murphy repeated her message to GSA employees in an email on Monday evening, using much of the same language in her notice to Biden.

“I want you to hear directly from me: I was never pressured with regard to the substance or timing of my decision,“ she wrote in her email to staffers, obtained by POLITICO. “The decision was solely mine. I was not directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official — including those who work at the White House or GSA — to delay this determination or to speed it up.“

Though she rejected that she was ever under pressure from the administration, prominent Republicans did start pushing Trump to accept the results of the election and let the transition get underway. Sen Mike Lee (R-Utah) last week called White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and told him he had questions about the GSA’s delay, according to a person familiar with the call. Meadows answered Lee’s questions and assured him that the issue would be addressed properly and in due time.

Still, Trump and many of his Republican allies have continued to contest the election as rife with fraud, pushing legal action and investigations that they say could flip the Electoral College in his favor. But with no evidence of widespread malfeasance, a chain of legal challenges having fizzled and margins in the tens of thousands in key swing states, the odds of such a flip are next to nil.

Trump has also refused to share with Biden the President’s Daily Briefing, despite calls from some Senate Republicans to do so. The Office of Management and Budget also pushed forward with Trump’s budget for 2022, acting as though he would have a second term.

The roadblocks were further aberrations from the collegiality usually shown during a presidential transition. But they were telegraphed by Trump, who had openly refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power in the lead-up to the election. Other members of Trump’s administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, also made waves by refusing to acknowledge Biden as the next president or otherwise casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election.

The unprecedented delay in the transition sparked calls for new safeguards to prevent a similar situation in the future. Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, lamented on Monday that the delayed transition cost the Biden team time in addressing some of the more pressing challenges the new administration will face. Biden’s transition team has already voiced concerns that the tardy transition could have serious consequences in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

“Moving forward, we must pursue statutory remedies to ensure that a transition is never again upheld for arbitrary or political purposes,” Stier said in a statement. “A clearer standard and a low bar for triggering access to transition resources are crucial to protecting the apolitical nature of presidential transitions.”

Regardless, Biden’s team didn’t waste time waiting for the official acknowledgment to make preparations for the White House. His transition team had met with former civil servants and other outside experts to better understand the agencies they’d be staffing, and he has been winnowing down candidates for various appointments.

Biden named his chief of staff, Ron Klain, only a couple of days after being announced the winner. He has also gone ahead with naming key cabinet positions, including his secretaries of State and Treasury, over the past few days.

Daniel Lippman contributed to this report.

Trump's FCC nominee sought to enlist Fox's Laura Ingraham in anti-tech fight

Politico -

Federal Communications Commission nominee Nathan Simington reached out to Fox News this summer in an attempt at “engaging” host Laura Ingraham to support President Donald Trump’s quest to make it easier to sue social media companies like Facebook and Twitter, according to emails obtained by POLITICO.

Simington, a senior adviser in a key Commerce Department tech agency, wrote that the popular Fox News host could help sway the FCC to act on Trump's proposal before Election Day. He also suggested that democracy hinged on the ability of the commission — which has not traditionally regulated social media — to target Silicon Valley companies.

“Any additional support we might be able to obtain could help to get the FCC on board more quickly and thereby ensure a freer, fairer social media landscape going into the elections this fall,” Simington wrote in a June 22 email to a Fox News staffer. “This is of concern both to the presidency and also down-ballot, and given the emerging role of social media as a replacement for mass media, our democracy will be weakened if we cannot respond to this issue quickly and effectively.”

Simington, who works for the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, wrote the email months before Trump nominated him for a five-year term on the FCC.

Trump has spent the final months of his reelection campaign and presidency feuding with the dominant social media platforms after they started fact-checking his posts on topics such as the pandemic and alleged election fraud. In a May executive order, Trump asked the FCC to reexamine a congressionally created liability shield that protects online companies from suits over how they handle user-posted content.

Ingraham, whom Trump frequently has cited favorably, has echoed the GOP’s attacks on the tech industry and years earlier had eyed joining the administration. Fellow Fox News host Tucker Carlson publicly backed Simington's FCC nomination in an October segment where he pressured Senate Republicans to speed up.

Simington, the NTIA and a Fox News spokesperson didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

Possible trouble for Simington: The FCC nominee's quest for a lame-duck confirmation has already faced an uncertain future. The newly obtained records undercut his attempt to downplay his role in the administration’s tech liability fight.

Simongton's current agency, the NTIA, petitioned the FCC in July to act on Trump's request to trim the liability shield. But he declined during a Nov. 10 confirmation hearing to recuse himself from any FCC rulemaking on the issue, though he said he would abide by any ethics counsel recommendations.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal argued during the Commerce Committee hearing that Simington’s work at the department requires him to recuse. The senator has threatened to block Simington, although a unified Republican caucus could still force his nomination through in a floor vote.

Blumenthal said Monday that the email to Fox adds to his concerns.

“This email shows that Mr. Simington was an active and eager soldier in President Trump’s attempted assault on the First Amendment," Blumenthal said in a statement to POLITICO. "Mr. Simington was willing to bully the very agency he’s been nominated to join in order to do the electoral bidding of the Republican party on the taxpayer dime.

"I am demanding that Mr. Simington explain himself in follow-up questions for the record, and I certainly hope he will be more forthcoming in his written responses than he was during his hearing," the Connecticut Democrat added.

During this month's hearing, Simington said he played a supporting role in drafting the NTIA's petition, estimating that he was responsible for only 5 to 7 percent of it. But in a July 1 email to other administration officials — also obtained by POLITICO through a Freedom of Information Act request — acting NTIA chief Adam Candeub called Simington “instrumental in drafting these regs” and “getting the final version of the petition” draft ready.

Trump has nominated Simington to replace Republican Commissioner Mike O'Rielly, who lost his bid for a new term after questioning whether Trump's requests of the FCC would be legal or appropriate.

Pressure on the FCC: Commission Chair Ajit Pai announced before Election Day that the FCC would kick off a rulemaking to reexamine the online liability shield, which Congress created by passing Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. But he hasn't released any proposal, and any attempt would probably be doomed as Democrats prepare to take control.

Months before that, the new records show, Simington was trying to amp up pressure on the FCC — a legally independent agency that is not required to follow the White House's dictates.

In his June email to Fox on what he called a “hot issue,” Simington expressed hopes for an FCC rulemaking “restraining social media companies from behavior that, absent certain case law re CDA 230, would be illegal” in addition to upholding “press and communications freedoms.”

Other emails obtained by POLITICO from August show Simington working with Candeub to draft an op-ed they hoped to place in The Wall Street Journal, which ultimately never happened.

What’s next: If Senate Republicans can jam through Simington’s nomination before the end of the year, they could postpone President-elect Joe Biden’s ability to form a Democratic majority at the FCC. That would have consequences beyond the fight around Section 230 and could slow Democratic initiatives such as any attempt to restore the commission's Obama-era net neutrality rules.

Concerned about leaving the FCC spot open for Biden to fill, Senate Commerce Chair Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) plans to hold a vote on Simington’s nomination after Thanksgiving, a committee aide said Monday, requesting anonymity to speak frankly. The committee still awaits Simington’s written answers to members' questions and will formally schedule a vote once those are received.

It's still unclear whether enough Republicans would vote to advance Simington in committee and on the floor during the handful of legislative days remaining.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), whom Trump personally singled out this month in a tweet promoting Simington, recently confirmed she'll be a yes. But Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), whose broader grievances with the FCC have caused him to block previous nominees to the agency, has not expressed support yet. Multiple other Senate Republicans, including Commerce member Rick Scott (R-Fla.), are quarantining due to the coronavirus, adding to the uncertainties.

Wicker talks frequently to lawmakers and the White House to ensure that Republicans have the necessary votes, the aide added.

Georgia recount set to start Tuesday

Politico -

The Georgia recount requested by President Donald Trump’s campaign is set to begin on Tuesday and will wrap up by midnight of Dec. 2, the secretary of state’s office announced.

The state certified results on Friday showing President-elect Joe Biden carried Georgia, and the state’s ballots have already been counted twice: first during the initial count, and then by a re-tally conducted by hand during a statewide audit that checked the accuracy of the initial machine count. As a result, the recount — a machine re-tally of the vote — is unlikely to change the result.

“Historically, [you] very rarely see much movement in the vote totals” in recounts, Gabriel Sherman, a top official in Georgia secretary of state’s office, said at a press conference Monday evening.

Trump is legally entitled to request a recount, and county and state offices shoulder the cost. But Trump and his allies have also sought to push beyond the recount, demanding an audit of the signatures on mail ballot envelopes. It’s part of a general drive to overturn the results of an election he lost, which is largely failing in courts and before election officials in key states, without Trump or his lawyers presenting evidence of systemic fraud or wrongdoing.

In Georgia, mail ballot signatures are checked twice during the absentee process — when a voter initially requests a ballot, and on the outer envelope when the ballot is returned — but after that, the envelope is separated from the ballot to ensure secrecy of the vote.

The recount will not examine those signatures on the ballot envelopes unless a court orders it or there is a specific investigatory reason to do so, Sherman said. He also questioned what an audit of those signatures would accomplish.

“There's no prima facie evidence that there has been an issue. And there's no specific evidence that anybody's brought to us that anybody has done anything wrong,” Sherman said at a Monday press conference. “It's a bad precedent unless we can find a legal path with specific evidentiary roots to follow.”

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, has faced withering criticism from the president and other Republicans because he has defended the integrity of the election as Trump lobs unfounded claims of fraud. Raffensperger said that his family has received threats, something Sherman, who is also a Republican, said has also happened to him.


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