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Biden builds out White House legislative affairs team

Politico -

President-elect Joe Biden announced two more staff hires on Monday for his White House's Office of Legislative Affairs.

Reema Dodin and Shuwanza Goff, two Capitol Hill veterans, will join the Biden administration’s legislative affairs team as deputy directors.

Dodin currently serves as deputy chief of staff and floor director for Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate Democratic whip. She is also working for the transition on a volunteer basis leading legislative strategy and engagement for the confirmation process.

Goff has worked for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer in a number of positions, most recently as floor director for the House of Representatives. She was the first Black woman to hold that position, which allowed her to set the legislative schedule and determine which bills came to the House floor.

“The American people are eager for our Administration to get to work, and today’s appointees will help advance our agenda and ensure every American has a fair shot,” Biden said in a statement announcing the hires. “In a Biden administration, we will have an open door to the Hill and this team will make sure their views are always represented in the White House.”

Both women will be joining the legislative affairs team helmed by Louisa Terrell, whose role Biden announced on Friday. The president-elect has been building out his White House team and is expected to formally announce his first Cabinet selections on Tuesday.

POLITICO confirmed Sunday night that Biden plans to name Antony Blinken to serve as his secretary of State; Jake Sullivan as his national security adviser; and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as ambassador to the United Nations.

AstraZeneca to seek FDA authorization for vaccine based on foreign trial data

Politico -

AstraZeneca said Monday that it will submit preliminary data from from large clinical trials in the U.K. and Brazil to the FDA as part of an application for emergency authorization.

Data from those trials show the vaccine was about 70 percent effective across two different dosing regimens. When the vaccine was given as a half dose and then a full dose one month later to about 2,700 participants, it had an efficacy of 90 percent. When given as two full doses at least one month apart to about 8,900 participants, it showed 62 percent efficacy.

AstraZeneca is the third Covid-19 vaccine maker to report results from a late-stage trial. A company spokesperson said it "will begin the submission of the clinical data to regulators around the world that have a framework in place for emergency use or conditional approval. This includes the FDA."

The company also said it would work with the agency to adjust the design of its late-stage U.S. trial to test the half-dose regimen, rather than the higher dose that proved less effective in the U.S and Brazil studies. That U.S. trial has enrolled about 10,000 of a planned 40,000 participants, but the company has not released any data from that study.

The U.K. and Brazil studies have enrolled about 24,000 participants — fewer than the 30,000 participants that the FDA is requiring for late-stage coronavirus vaccine trials.

The initial findings were based on 131 infections among trial participants. The company did not break down how many cases were reported among those who got a placebo versus those who got the vaccine, and within that vaccine group, how cases split among the two doses tested.

AstraZeneca also said that none of the infected people had severe Covid-19 or were hospitalized, but offered no further safety information.

Promising logistics: The AstraZeneca vaccine is cheaper and easier to distribute than the other two shots that have proven effective. It can be transported and stored under refrigerated conditions for at least six months, and the company says it can make up to 3 billion doses next year.

Vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which have each proven about 95 percent effective, must be frozen during distribution and kept at very cold temperatures.

“AstraZeneca and Oxford have developed an affordable, scalable vaccine that crucially can be stored and shipped in a regular refrigerator," said Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, said in a statement. "This makes it appropriate for use and easy to deliver almost anywhere in the world, including in low-resource settings."

But questions remain: Others doubt whether the FDA will authorize the vaccine.

"We believe that this product will never be licensed in the US," investment bank SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges said in a note on Monday. "This belief is based on the design of the company’s pivotal trials (which does not appear to match the FDA’s requirements for representation of minorities, severe cases, previously infected individuals and elderly and other increase risk populations), and based on the occurrence of severe safety events (why take the risk) that resulted in the extended clinical hold on enrollment into the trials in the US."

The company halted its U.S. trial in early September over safety concerns, after a trial participant reported neurological problems. The study resumed earlier this month after FDA concluded that no evidence linked the volunteer's symptoms to the shot.

Background: The AstraZeneca vaccine was developed by scientists at Oxford University, and uses a different technology than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. It uses a weakened version of the common cold that contains some genetic material from the coronavirus.

U.S. vaccine and therapeutics accelerator Operation Warp Speed paid for some of the clinical development of the AstraZeneca vaccine and purchased 300 million doses for $1.2 billion.

Other clinical trials are ongoing in Japan, Russia, South Africa, Kenya and Latin America, with planned trials in other European and Asian countries. AstraZeneca said it expects to enroll up to 60,000 clinical trial participants globally.

What's next: The FDA will decide whether to allow the U.K. and Brazilian data to form the basis of an emergency authorization for the vaccine. The company may release early data from the U.S. trial over the next few weeks ahead of that trial's completion.

The Democrats' Dangerous Assault on Republican Lawyers

Real Clear Politics -

We have been discussing the campaign of harassment and threats against Republican lawyers to get them to drop election challenges. New Jersey Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell expanded that campaign this week with a malicious and frivolous demand for New York and other states to disbar roughly two dozen lawyers for representing Trump, the Republican party, or the Trump campaign in the litigation. While Democratic members and the media discuss attacks on democracy and the rule of law, they appear to have little problem with campaigns to threaten and harass both lawyers and legislators for raising...

French Laundry snafu reignites longshot Newsom recall drive

Politico -

OAKLAND, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pandemic group outing to the French Laundry and his decision to send his kids to in-person private school are reigniting talk of a recall that was once relegated to the fringes of conservative groups in deep blue California.

In a collision of unfortunate events for Newsom, conservative activists last week won a 120-day court extension to continue gathering recall signatures, and they're hoping to capitalize on events so damaging for the governor that he has avoided reporters for a week despite an escalating pandemic crisis.

Nearly two decades after California Republicans successfully fueled the drive to recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and catapult Arnold Schwarzenegger to the state’s top spot, the GOP faithful are hoping the court ruling will be a “game changer," said Tom Del Beccaro, chair of the RescueCalifornia.org drive.

"It makes all the difference in the world for us," said Del Beccaro, former chair of the California Republican Party. “So now we have an extended life, and we’re not competing with the [presidential] election anymore."

Before Newsom's foibles, the governor had strong approval ratings in October, approaching 60 percent overall, while Democrats enjoy nearly a 2-to-1 registration advantage over Republicans in the state. But party activists are betting that a new round of business closures and a curfew during a fast-moving coronavirus spread — and the flurry of damaging French Laundry stories — will help them with another longshot bid that worked spectacularly in 2003.

“We haven’t had school since March ... I’m juggling things together, my husband just took on a third job,’’ said Andrea Hedstrom, a 45-year-old mother who described herself as a lifelong Democrat before volunteering to work on the recall drive this year. "And Gavin Newsom has continued to keep his kids in tuition-based schools. And I see them here in Sacramento playing with nannies and dog walkers."

The order by Sacramento Superior Court Judge James P. Arguelles last week gives recall proponents — which include some leading GOP donors, activists and electeds — a 120-day extension until March 17 to gather signatures because he agreed they were unfairly limited by the Covid-19 pandemic.

But veterans on the front lines of California’s last — and only — successful gubernatorial recall caution that Newsom’s opponents, including the embattled state Republican Party, will need a heady infusion of cash and an army of energized voters to get to the finish line.

The bar is extremely high. Organizers would need to collect nearly 1.5 million valid signatures — which means they'd actually need closer to 2 million to feel confident because of the generally high share of invalid signers for any petition. And they would have to find all of these supporters during a pandemic, when voters are less accessible in person and uncomfortable interacting with signature gathers. Qualifying a recall could take several million dollars, far more than 17 years ago.

There’s little evidence, Democratic political strategists say, to suggest the muscle and money is there to make that happen.

Garry South, who served as the senior adviser to Davis and has been an adviser to Newsom, warns that "the circumstances are far different now than in the ‘03 recall," when a single rich Republican — Rep. Darrell Issa — contributed $1.7 million of his own fortune to underwrite the ouster of the politically vulnerable Davis, presumably to make the gubernatorial run himself.

Issa’s cash got the recall campaign off the ground, but allowed Schwarzenegger, a charismatic action movie hero, to take over the cause — declaring his candidacy on "The Tonight Show" and winning the governorship in less than 90 days. Those freakish circumstances appear highly unlikely to re-occur this year, he said.

It also came in a much different era before President Donald Trump damaged the party's standing in California, the population was less diverse and Republicans still had a legitimate shot each gubernatorial election to compete. Heading into the 2003 recall, 44 percent of the electorate was registered as Democrats compared to 35 percent Republicans. That split today is 46 percent Democratic, 24 percent Republican — and 24 percent with no party allegiance.

No Republican has held statewide office since Schwarzenegger left at the beginning of 2011. Newsom has been considered about as safe a bet for re-election as any governor before him. But others warn that lightning could strike twice.

"I would not laugh it off," said Republican strategist Rob Stutzman, who served as communications director to Schwarzenegger during the 2003 recall and later when he took office.

In the era of pandemic politics, Newsom has been perceived as "declaring war on certain industries, and with the general frustration with the business community — and they could be feeling pretty emboldened," Stutzman said.

The recall strategy is still a longshot, but if the economy doesn't bounce back and the Covid-19 picture doesn't look up, voters angered with political hypocrisy — frustrated and finance-strapped — may be ripe for convincing that it's Newsom's time to go, Stutzman said.

"They could say, "Recall? Yeah, I’ll sign that."

California established the recall in 1911 as one of a series of populist reforms, along with the state's initiative and referendum powers.

The foundation for the 2003 recall was a pent-up, statewide anger after California couldn't keep the lights on during the energy crisis and raised taxes on vehicles in the car-crazed state. Though Davis survived his 2002 re-election bid against a conservative Republican, voters were still frustrated with their leader.

Proponents spy a similar populist opening in 2020, especially after the governor's foray to the French Laundry with top lobbyists and sending his kids to private school. The multimillionaire businessman and wine entrepreneur lives in a gated $4 million mansion overlooking the American River, according to public records.

Newsom last week apologized for attending the dinner party, but the story persisted after Fox LA obtained pictures suggesting the Nov. 6 event wasn't exactly outside — contrary to his description — and showed the governor dining with two top officials with the powerful doctors' lobby.

Recall activists say Newsom's coronavirus restrictions on churches, gyms, restaurants and other businesses have fueled the state's nearly 10 percent unemployment rate. Most of California's 6 million public schoolchildren remain at home in part because Newsom has left it up to local school districts and labor unions to determine when to reopen.

Already, the same radio talk show hosts who helped fuel the 2003 recall are firing up their anti-governor blowtorch again, railing nonstop against Newsom. John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou, the "John and Ken" afternoon duo at KFI radio in Los Angeles, have been lambasting the governor as an "aristocrat" who has caused residents to suffer during the pandemic.

“Gavin Newsom is the best salesman — driving more people to sign this recall than we could ever do ourselves," said Orrin Heatlie of Folsom, the lead organizer of RecallGavin2020.com, with 75 volunteer groups statewide and 250,000 followers on social media.

Heatlie, a recall organizer, has retired after serving 25 years as a sergeant with the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office — where he was a lead negotiator in crisis response and hostage negotiations. In recent months, he has expressed views on social media that have been criticized as extreme. In April, Heatlie posted on Facebook, “The same people calling me a science, climate denier are claiming there are multiple genders, and they want me to vaccinate. I am soooooooooo NOT!” In another post, he suggested it might be a good idea to “microchip” undocumented immigrants.

Democrats have ignored the recall efforts so far. But if they begin taking the petitions seriously, they will be quick to emphasize that the effort is driven by Trump-aligned conservatives, whose views are unpopular statewide.

Dan Newman, a political adviser to Newsom, said it “will be interesting to see if ambitious Republican politicians really want to tie themselves to extremists who hold such abhorrent anti-California opinions.”

Heatlie said his group has already collected nearly 700,000 signatures and is now confident of reaching 1.5 million required thanks to Newsom’s "latest escapades." Collecting signatures, in person and online, he said, has been easier when voters are reminded of the governor's "shutting down Thanksgiving and travel plans … and telling everyone to limit who they’re in contact with, and at the same time, he’s going to the French Laundry."

If recall proponents have a shot at all, it will be that they somehow capture the attention of a big donor who decides to cut the movement a seven-figure check. Newsom's missteps have been covered daily on Fox News, potentially widening the pool of contributors.

Though the energy is coming from conservatives to circulate recall petitions, it would be a long-shot for a Republican to win the governor's office, let alone one who isn't a moderate. Del Beccaro acknowledges that Schwarzenegger "never could have been elected in a general election" as a challenger, but noted that a recall during a pandemic could upend conventional political rules.

If there are multiple candidates — in 2003, there were 135 — "this does represent the best chance for a Republican — a solution-minded Republican — to run for governor," he said.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer — a moderate, business-friendly Republican who has touted his city’s effective efforts to attack homelessness, is often mentioned as a GOP’s best shot at the state’s top spot. Faulconer told POLITICO on Thursday that he is "seriously considering" a run for governor in the future and has been criticizing Newsom in the past week as out of touch.

Already, Del Beccaro’s group, backed by the California Revival PAC which he founded, has found common cause with other recall organizations. Heatle’s California Patriot Coalition last month filed a 23-page lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court, arguing that the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic demanded an extension of normal deadlines for signature collecting — a decision that will now benefit both.

Heatle’s group has bankrolled its effort in part from crowd-funding, but also with a check from wealthy former GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox, who put in $100,000 — and is exploring another run at the governor’s seat in 2022.

Other major donors have included Northridge business owners Howard and Susan Groff, who donated $30,000, and Del Becarro’s California Revival PAC, which put in $60,000. With the judge’s order this week, Del Beccaro now says he expects to raise $3 million for his effort, and has some promising commitments from leading GOP donors, who he declined to name; Heatle says he will raise $1.5 million toward the goal.

Still, South argues that Republicans are dreaming if they think that they can replicate the success of California’s unforgettable 2003 recall. Among them: the distinct differences between the avuncular Davis and Newsom, who’s considered a rising star in the party and a likely future presidential candidate.

Davis won re-election in ‘02 by a 5 percentage point margin over Republican Bill Simon, while Newsom was elected in a 2018 landslide of 62 percent to 38 percent.

Before his optics problems, Newsom’s approval rating last month was a stratospheric 58 percent, while 61 percent approved of his handling of Covid-19 crisis, according to the latest PPIC poll.

By comparison, Davis’ approval ratings were in the 30s, South said.

The biggest problem: California Republicans have no figure even close to competing with Schwarzenegger for excitement and name recognition, South observed. He dismissed Faulconer as a canididate who “sounds like a guy who trains birds ... and who most Californians have never heard of."

But proponents say polls have been wrong in the past — see: 2020 presidential election — and that the politicians in Sacramento can’t begin to measure the full brunt of the pain of Covid — which, they insist, can fuel another revolution in 2020.

“I give those people a lot of latitude, they don’t live like me,’’ said Hedstrom, who lost her home in the 2017 wine country fires. “I’m a displaced person, I live in a double wide trailer….But people are trying to survive here, businesses are closed, people are suffering in this state. “

“We need to clean house," she said, “and it starts with the governor.”

Tourists are few, but gift shops still ❤️ N.Y.

Politico -

NEW YORK — In souvenir shops from Times Square to the World Trade Center, shelves full of T-shirts and trinkets still ❤️ New York. But the proprietors wonder when their customers will, again.

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a voracious bite out of a slice of New York life as recognizable as a piece of pizza: the gifts-slash-luggage-and-sometimes-slash-electronics stores that dot tourist-friendly areas, offering Statue of Liberty figurines, toy taxis, NYPD ballcaps, Big Apple fridge magnets and anything and everything emblazoned with the famous “I ❤️ NY” logo. The memento markets are enough of a New York institution that a recent ”Saturday Night Live" skit was set in one.

Like the miniature-skyline snow globes they sell, the shops are a microcosm of a city that has thrived on drawing visitors from around the world and now is feeling their near-absence.

“It's a fight for survival,” Ali Zaidi said one recent morning at his shop two blocks from the World Trade Center. And with coronavirus cases rising and winter approaching, what would normally be the build-up to a busy holiday season instead is ”getting worse and worse, day by day."

Before the pandemic, his Broadway Gifts store generally got hundreds of customers a day — many tourists, but also local office workers looking for gloves, cell phone chargers or other practical items, he said. Now, with few out-of-town visitors and many locals still working from home, an average day might bring 25 to 50 people and $300 or less in sales, a small fraction of business as usual, says Zaidi, who has another souvenir store in midtown Manhattan.

After being closed for more than three months after the city shut down nonessential retail in March, Zaidi says he's used all the business' savings to keep it going, while getting some breaks from his landlords and keeping his staff as small as possible — it's just him and three relatives. Still, he had to cut back sharply on ordering Christmas merchandise, he said.

“I wish I could provide more to my customers, so they could have a nice Christmas with nice ornaments on their trees,” said Zaidi, who says he's in the the business not just for a livelihood, but because selling gifts “brings joy to others.”

Nonetheless, he's says he's “very optimistic” that the pandemic will eventually be quashed and business will recover.

“We have to give positive energy in the city to bring it back to life,” Zaidi said.

After setting records year after year since 2010, travel to the United States’ biggest city has plummeted since the pandemic shuttered Broadway theaters, closed many other attractions for months and ushered in federal bans on some foreign visitors and New York quarantine rules affecting many interstate arrivals.

City tourism agency NYC & Co. is now projecting visitors will total about 23 million this year, an “unmatched drop” from over 66 million last year, though the agency forecasts the numbers will rebound to reach new records by 2024. Hotel occupancy is currently down about 80% from normal, and traffic at metro area airports about 75%, according to the Hotel Association of New York City and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.

In souvenir shops around Times and Herald squares, browsers were scant on a recent midday afternoon. Workers spoke of trimmed-down staffs and, in some places, hours passing between sales.

A bit farther south, near the landmark Flatiron Building, Alper Tutus sported a “New York tough” face mask as he surveyed the wares he has curated during 35 years in the electronics and souvenir business.

Pointing out an extensive postcard selection, movie-star T-shirts and other specialties, he recalled the pre-pandemic days when customers lined up at the register that put his two daughters through college.

Nowadays, Tutus worries about covering the shop's expenses, with monthly rent he said is in the tens of thousands of dollars.

The situation got him down for a while, but he believes in the city's potential and his own: "I never give up,” he said.

Working seven days a week, the septuagenarian says he’s been talking with his landlord, and he hopes the state or federal government can come up with some more aid for shops like his.

While hotels, restaurants and other businesses are important to the city's tourism, he says souvenir shops have their own special place, providing tangible connections to the city that visitors take home with them.

“It reflects your love, reflects your memories," Tutus said. “These little, little things, they make them so happy.”


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