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How Trump is hunting down the GOP’s leading families

Politico -

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

Politico -

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

Politico -

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

Politico -

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.

Politico -

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

Politico -

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

Politico -

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.

Jenner has hangar pains after Hannity interview

Politico -

OAKLAND — Move over French Laundry, there's a new social media obsession: Hangar Guy.

GOP recall candidate Caitlyn Jenner may have played right into Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s hands when she lamented on Fox News that a neighboring private plane owner at her airport hangar is abandoning California because he “can't take” seeing homeless people anymore.

In her first interview as a political candidate, Jenner told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Wednesday that she liked how former President Donald Trump "shook up the system," supported his border wall effort and hasn't agreed with anything President Joe Biden has done this year.

But it was her plane anecdote that went viral. “The guy right across, he was packing up his hangar,” Jenner said during the sitdown in her own Southern California plane hangar. “And he says, ‘I’m moving to Sedona, Ariz. I can’t take it anymore. I can’t walk down the streets and see the homeless.'"

In less than 24 hours, that comment has drawn more than 5 million views on Twitter and prompted a caustic string of rebukes, potshots and one-liners mocking the TV reality show star as out of touch. It raised the more serious question of whether — in one brief moment — the candidate disarmed one of the Republicans’ most effective caricatures of the wealthy Democratic governor as a tone-deaf leader who dined at the French Laundry during the pandemic.

LGBTQ activist Charlotte Clymer tweeted, "Caitlyn for California: Put the Poors Where I Can't See Them." Comedian Kathy Griffin joked, “When you lost the private airplane hanger crowd…”

Some said the quip delivered a flashback to Jenner’s uber-upscale “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” persona — not exactly a gubernatorial profile.

“It was a disaster, one which placed Jenner in exactly the same mold ... of the French Laundry thing," GOP strategist Robert Molnar said of the hangar comment. Except this time, it was “my elite wealthy friends are jumping into their private jets and shutting down their hangars and moving to Arizona because they don't like homeless people."

“Homelessness is a problem — and you need to solve it," he said.

Jenner, 71, has spent plenty of years in the limelight, from her gold medal win in the 1976 Olympic decathlon to her years on reality TV and high-profile interviews on being transgender. But she has never before run for office and has only a few months to convince voters she can lead the world's fifth largest economy — one burdened by natural disasters and a severe housing shortage along with the ever-changing Covid-19 crisis.

After the Fox News interview, Jenner’s GOP competitors saw an immediate opening to underscore her status as a neophyte who has never dirtied her hands wrestling with the issues affecting average Californians. For weeks, they've been desperate to find a foothold as Jenner's candidacy drew national attention — so desperate that Republican hopeful John Cox brought a live Kodiak bear to a campaign stop in Sacramento this week.

“It just shows the world that she lives in," said Steve Puetz, a spokesperson for Republican candidate Kevin Faulconer, the former San Diego mayor. “She’s a celebrity and social media person, and extremely wealthy. And her friends and experiences are a little different than most Californians."

Puetz said voters will see the clear difference with such moments. Faulconer “has been dealing with trying to make an impact in the homeless crisis in San Diego for years," and has discussed at length "what works and what doesn’t" to address the problem, Puetz said.

But other Republicans were willing to give Jenner more leeway. Conservative radio host Jennifer Kerns, a former spokesperson for the California Republican Party, said the reality star merited an “A-” for her Hannity appearance, saying she is “getting her sea legs” and effectively introducing herself to voters — especially GOP voters who will be crucial to her political fortunes.

Jenner's appearance was a concerted appeal to Republican voters considering the Fox News venue alone, where Hannity said he was broadcasting from "the united Socialist state" of California. She admired Trump for being a "disrupter" though she said there were "some things I didn't agree with," acknowledging her past criticism of how Trump handled transgender issues.

She also aligned herself with Republicans on immigration.

"I am all for the wall, I would secure the wall. We can't have a state, we can't have a country, without a secure wall," Jenner said.

While professing empathy for immigrants, Jenner noted, "I mean, some people we're going to send back, OK, no question about that." Asked if she would eliminate sanctuary status of California, Jenner told Hannity, "I would do my absolute best to do that."

Dan Newman, a Newsom campaign spokesperson, said the most revealing moment in Jenner’s interview — and the ones that will haunt her even more in coming months — was her embrace of the former president who remains historically unpopular with California voters.

“When you say that you oppose every single thing that Joe Biden is doing and believes in — stimulus payments, accelerating the vaccine, infrastructure improvements. support for schools, just across the board — it really makes it clear that this [recall] is all Trump."

But Kerns said Jenner’s point on the hangar comment was “not that people don't want to look at the homeless — it's that the politicians and the elected officials in California who are in charge aren't actually doing anything about the homelessness crisis."

Republican consultant Dave McCulloch said in an interview said that Jenner's initial appearance achieved her goal of "making that transition from celebrity to politician," arguing that she can lay out more detailed policy prescriptions as the campaign unfolds. McCulloch argued that Jenner openly talking about her wealth is preferable to Newsom downplaying his affluence.

"It wasn’t relatable to the average Californian going through economic hard times but in terms of electing a politician it’s less of an issue than ever before — look at Donald Trump," McCulloch said.

At the very least, Jenner missed an opportunity in the Fox News interview to lay out what she would do to solve homelessness in California. Her campaign website this week added an issues page, where she said she would work with local leaders to remove restrictions and "revisit" any regulation that blocks affordable housing construction. She also said she would push large employers to help build housing and come up with a plan addressing physical and mental health challenges.

But all she said to Hannity on homelessness was the hangar anecdote.

“That interview was more Kardashian than California," observed Christine Pelosi, the daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a California Democratic Party women's caucus chair.

“I guarantee that, as much as people don’t want to look at homeless people, homeless people don’t want to be homeless,’’ she said, “and they don’t want to be looked at as a nuisance or problems that you can fly away from."

Jeremy B. White contributed to this report.

Two Views of American Families Plan

FactCheck -

The White House and Republican National Committee are each touting different economic analyses that reach far different conclusions about the budget and economic impact of President Joe Biden’s American Families Plan.

One analysis from Penn Wharton Budget Model – which is being promoted by the RNC – directly contradicts Biden’s claims that the plan “doesn’t add a single penny to our deficit” and that it is “estimated to grow the economy another trillion dollars.”

In its May 5 analysis, PWBM estimates that over 10 years, the plan would spend $1.2 trillion more than it takes in in new revenue, and would increase government debt by almost 5% by 2050. It also predicts the plan would decrease GDP by 0.34% over 10 years, and by nearly 0.4% by 2050.

Another analysis of the American Families Plan from Moody’s Analytics – which the White House has been sending around — provides some cover for the president’s claims, but only in the event that the plan is passed in conjunction with the American Jobs Plan. (The president is calling the two plans together his “Build Back Better” agenda.)

If both proposals were passed, Moody’s estimated they would pay for themselves in 15 years and would raise real GDP by nearly $1 trillion. But the American Jobs Plan does most of the heavy lifting in that equation.

In its May 3 report, Moody’s concludes the American Families Plan would add $218 billion to the country’s deficits over 10 years. One of the authors of the report said it might take 19 years for the AFP to break even on its own. While the Moody’s analysis does conclude that the plan would grow the economy, even if passed without the American Jobs Plan, it alone would increase the real GDP by about a tenth as much as Biden claimed.

The American Families Plan

The American Families Plan would provide two years of free community college and two years of preschool to any individual or family that wanted them, as well as access to affordable child care and paid leave, among other things. In all, the Biden administration estimates those investments and tax credits will cost $1.8 trillion over 10 years.

Biden proposes to fund all that through a series of tax increases on high-income Americans, including: raising the top individual income tax rate from 37% to 39.6%; taxing unrealized capital gains above $1 million at death; taxing long-term capital gains at ordinary income rates for individuals making more than $1 million; taxing carried interest at ordinary rates; extending the limitation of business losses for noncorporate taxpayers; and adjusting the threshold for the 3.8% Medicare tax to all income above $400,000.

Biden’s American Families Plan comes on the heels of his $2.7 trillion American Jobs Plan, an infrastructure bill (using the Democrats’ broad definition of infrastructure), which is paid for mostly through higher corporate taxes. Neither the American Jobs Plan nor the American Families Plan has yet been introduced as legislation in Congress.

In a speech on the American Families Plan on May 3, Biden called it “a once-in-a-generation investment in our families, in our children.”

He also made two assurances: that the cost of the plan is offset by revenue, and that it will grow the economy.

“And here’s what the American Families Plan doesn’t do: It doesn’t add a single penny to our deficit,” Biden said. “It’s paid for by making sure corporate America and the wealthiest 1% just pay their fair share.”

Later, he added, “I won’t go into all the other statistics, but the plan is estimated to grow the economy another trillion dollars. This will grow the economy. Everybody would be better off.”

We reached out to the White House press office for backup, but we did not get a response. It is possible the White House was referring to the Moody’s analysis, released the same day the president spoke, and which the White House press office has promoted in emails.

Moody’s Analysis

Moody’s concluded that while the American Families Plan’s “near-term impacts are small, it provides meaningful longer-term economic benefits by increasing labor force participation and the educational attainment of the population.”

One of the authors of the report, Bernard Yaros, an assistant director and economist at Moody’s Analytics, told us via email the American Families Plan would add to deficits through 2025, but then begin to lower them once the expanded child tax credit expires. (Some Democrats have said they want to make the child tax credit permanent.)

According to the Moody’s analysis (see Table 1), the plan would add about $326 billion to the nation’s deficits in those first four years. Starting in 2026 and beyond, Moody’s forecasts the plan would then begin to lower deficits a bit each year. Nonetheless, in the 10-year window Moody’s considered, the plan would add about $218 billion in deficits.

“When combined with the American Jobs Plan, the AFP would be fully paid for by higher taxes in approximately 15 years,” Yaros told us. But without the American Jobs Plan, he said, that break-even point would take longer.

“Our analysis was only limited to the current decade,” Yaros said. “However, if we assume the AFP continues to reduce annual budget deficits by $22.3 billion beyond 2031, the AFP would pay for itself in approximately 19 years. This is a crude estimate, but it clearly suggests that without the American Jobs Plan, the AFP would take longer to fully pay for itself.”

Yaros also defended Biden’s claim that “the plan is estimated to grow the economy another trillion dollars” — but again with the caveat that it is passed in conjunction with the American Jobs Plan.

“By the end of 2030, real GDP under the AJP and AFP would be $25.1 trillion, compared with $24.3 trillion if neither are enacted,” Yaros said. “This is a difference of $800 billion. However, keep in mind that this figure is in constant 2012 dollars (i.e. adjusted for inflation). In nominal terms (unadjusted for inflation), the difference would be a larger $1.1 trillion, so according to our findings, Biden is right that the AJP and AFP would add another trillion dollars to the economy.”

But Biden’s comments were focused on the American Families Plan, and he never mentioned that the $1 trillion increase to the economy was a combination of the two legislative efforts.

The Moody’s analysis indicates the American Families Plan — alone — would increase real GDP by $103 billion in (inflation-adjusted) constant 2012 dollars. That comes to $145 billion in nominal dollars, Yaros said. That’s a fraction of the $1 trillion that Biden said “the plan” was estimated to grow the economy.

Penn Wharton Budget Model Analysis

As we said, an analysis of the American Families Plan by the Penn Wharton Budget Model is less optimistic — which is why, not surprisingly, the Republican National Committee press office has been circulating this analysis.

For starters, the PWBM takes issue with the administration’s cost estimate for the American Families Plan. Rather than $1.8 trillion, PWBM puts the cost at $2.5 trillion.

There are several reasons for that higher estimate, PWBM experts explained in a call with the media on May 5. The PWBM put a higher price tag than the administration did on universal preschool ($426 billion as opposed to $200 billion) and two years of free community college ($299 billion as opposed to $109 billion). It assumed the federal government would pick up the entire cost of both programs, though a White House fact sheet suggests states will be asked to pay a portion of the cost. Regardless of whether the cost is split with states, the cost of the programs would be borne by taxpayers one way or the other, and would still have a macroeconomic effect, PWBM experts said.

The PWBM also projects less revenue from enhanced IRS tax collection enforcement ($480 billion over 10 years as opposed the White House’s and Moody’s estimate of $700 billion).

While spending $2.5 trillion over 10 years, PWBM estimates, the AFP would raise $1.3 trillion in new tax revenue over that period, a $1.2 trillion difference.

“By 2050, we estimate that the AFP would increase government debt by almost 5 percent and decrease GDP by 0.4 percent, as the effects from larger debt on the economy outweigh the productivity gains associated with the new spending programs,” the PWBM analysis states.

PWBM estimates wages would be 0.1% higher “due to the productivity boost from public investments. However, those productivity effects are not enough to offset the negative effect of higher government debt on GDP, which ends up 0.4 percent lower in 2050.”

In other words, the PWBM contradicts both of Biden’s assurances: that the AFP would not increase the deficit and would grow the economy.

“We are saying that is not true,” Richard Prisinzano, director of policy analysis at PWBM, said of Biden’s claims.

The White House may take issue with some of the estimates PWBM assigned to various provisions of the plan — which were presented in a White House fact sheet with few details and not an actual piece of proposed legislation. “But I think we in good faith have estimated it and our numbers just don’t add up the way that they’ve presented them,” Prisinzano said. “And, again, I’m pretty confident in our models.”

The lack of specifics in the White House fact sheets is why the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center has yet to undertake an economic analysis of the plan, Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, told us via email.

“There is not enough detail for us to model Biden’s tax ideas,” Gleckman said. “I suspect we will wait until they release a more detailed budget and Treasury puts out a Green Book. At that point, we’ll likely do a full analysis of the plan.”

As for whether the plan will pay for itself, Gleckman cautioned that estimates may be difficult for economists to predict due to the long-term benefits of, say, preschool and community college.

“In the real world, some infrastructure spending has a pretty high ROI [return on investment] and some is just a waste of money,” Gleckman said. “The stuff in the family plan is harder to calculate. Will improved education result in more productive workers? It might, though the return likely would occur over a very long time.

“Will support for families with children or frail parents mean that adults in those households will spend more time at paid work and less time caregiving? Probably. Can anyone really calculate the return? I doubt it.”

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Biden Cabinet nominee's meetings with Epstein in 2012 spanned 90 minutes, document reveals

Politico -

Biden Cabinet nominee Eric Lander’s past meetings with the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein spanned approximately 90 minutes over two events in the spring of 2012, according to a document obtained by POLITICO.

Lander, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology biology professor and President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the White House tech policy office, has faced scrutiny from Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike over a pair of events he attended nearly a decade ago with Epstein and other prospective donors.

The document reveals details that largely align with Lander and the White House’s descriptions of the meetings as brief interactions, including during his recent nomination hearing. But the controversy could still imperil his confirmation, which has also faced questions about allegations he downplayed female scientist's contributions to his field and about other past interactions with controversial figures.

Lander, tapped to lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy, is the only outstanding Biden Cabinet nominee yet to be confirmed.

Members of the Senate Committee Committee pressed Lander at a nomination hearing late last month to provide the panel with additional information about his interactions with Epstein, which were unearthed by news reports in 2019.

That response, submitted by the White House and obtained by POLITICO, says Lander's first such encounter was at a 60-minute lunch meeting with other scientists and “three or four donors or prospective donors” including Epstein on April 15, 2012.

Lander and other faculty members “made presentations about the state of research in their respective fields, and answered questions from the group, including Epstein," according to the document. It stated Lander attended the entire event.

The second interaction took place at a reception on May 12 of that year ahead of a dinner with “about forty people” consisting of faculty, donors and prospective donors, including Epstein. Lander did not attend the dinner but spent about 30 minutes at the reception and spoke to Epstein, among others.

“After these two events, Dr. Lander never saw or spoke to Epstein again,” states the document, which offers one of the fullest accounts of the events made public to date. Lander "neither ever requested or received any funding from [Epstein] or his foundations," the document reads. A 2019 BuzzFeed investigation found that Epstein donated millions to other researchers.

A spokesperson for OSTP declined to comment, and the Senate Commerce Committee did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Epstein had been a convicted sex offender since 2008. He was later arrested on federal sex trafficking charges in 2019 before killing himself.

At his April nomination hearing, Lander called Epstein an “abhorrent individual” and said he “chose to have no association whatsoever with him,” including never receiving funding from the financier.

“The sum total of my interactions was that I met him briefly at two events within the span of three weeks in the spring of 2012,” Lander testified, adding that he wasn’t aware of Epstein’s “sordid history” at the time.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) said at the session that she was “troubled” about those meetings among other incidents that called into question his handling of race and gender issues. Other members, including Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), have privately expressed concern as well, as POLITICO has reported.

The OSTP director post has been elevated to Cabinet level for the first time under Biden, in a nod to what he called the importance of scientific innovation.


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