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Biden hits 100-day school reopening goal, but reopening difficulties persist

Politico -

President Joe Biden hit his 100-day goal of reopening the majority of K-8 schools for in-person learning in March, statistics from a White House-ordered school learning census indicated on Thursday. Yet the data also underscores the administration’s myriad challenges: repairing racial disparities, reopening schools and reassuring parents that classroom learning is safe — all as the country starts looking ahead to summer learning and the fall semester.

Close to 90 percent of public K-8 schools offered hybrid or full-time in-person instruction by the end of March, the government said. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said 54 percent of K-8 schools were open in-person on a full-time basis.

“The data released today reaffirms that we reached President Biden’s goal of reopening the majority of K-8 schools ahead of schedule,” he said in a statement.

Public school K-8 students of color returned to in-person classes at higher rates between February and March, according to the latest estimates from the school reopening survey Biden commissioned. But federal data released Thursday continued to show enrollment gaps for in-person learning between white students and their peers from other racial groups.

“We are still seeing a much lower percentage of Black, Hispanic, and Asian students enrolled in full time in-person learning compared to their White counterparts,” Cardona acknowledged. “And even when offered in-person options, many Black, Hispanic, and Asian students, as well as multilingual learners and students with disabilities, are still learning fully remote.”

By the numbers: Nationwide, 58 percent of white fourth-graders were back inside public schools full time by the end of March, according to data from the Education Department’s research branch. But at least 45 percent of Black, Hispanic and Asian fourth-graders were still enrolled in remote instruction by March. Seventy-two percent of Asian eighth-graders were in remote classes by that time, along with more than half of Black and Hispanic eighth-graders — but just 24 percent of white eighth-graders.

Each of those numbers represent a notable improvement from earlier in the year, but students of color still attend remote-only classes at disproportionate rates.

“We are seeing higher percentages of students enrolled in full-time, in-person learning, though there are still gaps,” said Lynn Woodworth, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, in a statement. “Most Black, Hispanic and Asian students are still not attending school in-person at all.”

What’s next: Cardona said officials “must act with urgency and bring every resource to bear” to get more schools reopened full-time this spring and address persistent disparities.

Cheney faces the boot in Washington. Wyoming isn’t looking much better.

Politico -

Rep. Liz Cheney’s colleagues are set to boot her from House GOP leadership this month. Now Republicans back in her home state of Wyoming are plotting how to remove her from Congress entirely.

There is no shortage of Republicans eager to take on Cheney in a 2022 primary since her vote to impeach President Donald Trump and her subsequent criticism of him tanked her popularity in Wyoming. But the crowded field is also a risk for the anti-Cheney forces, making it more possible for her to win with a plurality.

That might be the only path back to Washington for Cheney, barring a drastic change of fortune: Internal polling conducted for Trump’s PAC in January and, more recently, for the pro-Trump Club for Growth show a majority of Wyoming Republicans disapproving of Cheney and continuing strong support for Trump.

The collapse in support is a remarkable fall from grace for Cheney, who just last year passed on an open Senate seat in her state to remain in House leadership instead. After ascending to GOP conference chair — the same post her father once held — she was touted as a future House speaker. Now, it’s impossible to call her anything other than an underdog in her own congressional seat.

Trump and his orbit have taken a strong interest in the race, and an endorsement could help clarify the field, which already features four Republicans who have filed to run against Cheney. But more contenders are waiting on the sidelines, and Trump’s political team, according to two people familiar with the efforts, has shown early interest in recruiting a pair of Republicans who aren’t already in the race: attorney Darin Smith, who ran for the seat in 2016, and Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan.

“I think anybody who's a decent Republican is going to get behind whoever Donald Trump eventually endorses,” Smith said in an interview. “He's gonna look under every rock and look over the lay of the land, and he's going to determine who that person that he's going to get behind is.”

He said he’s been approached about entering the race and is seriously considering it. "We need somebody, for sure, that will export Wyoming's values to Washington and not the other way around,” Smith said.

Smith placed fourth in Wyoming’s Republican congressional primary in 2016, when the seat was open, and appears more likely to enter the fray than Buchanan, who would have to forgo reelection as secretary of state to challenge Cheney. The two are unlikely to both jump into the primary, and people close to Buchanan said they think he is leaning against a run.

There are two other candidates already running who have raised a significant amount of money, state legislators Chuck Gray and Anthony Bouchard, and others are interested, but the field is not settled, and there’s desire among Trump allies in Wyoming and Washington to sort out the race quickly. Besides the president’s team, the anti-tax Club for Growth is also eager to get in the race and has been vetting prospective candidates.

“We would have a desire to try to line up with the president’s endorsements and our spending and super PAC to help that candidate really make it a two-person race,” said David McIntosh, the Club for Growth's president. “If you get a half-dozen different people in the race, then whoever gets to 25, 30 percent wins. Liz Cheney could do that — she's got a ceiling at about 30 percent.”

The Club polled in the state in late April and found her favorable rating underwater by 36 points, with 52 percent of those surveyed saying they would not back Cheney regardless of who ran against her. Only 14 percent said they would support her under any circumstance.

Support from the Club and the president would arm any candidate with a powerful list of small-dollar donors and, more importantly, the most powerful endorsement a candidate could have in Wyoming. Trump carried the state with roughly 70 percent in both 2016 and 2020.

But there’s still an open question about just how much the field will coalesce after the former president weighs in. In her 2016 run, Cheney got 40 percent of the vote in a nine-way race.

Bouchard has raised some $330,000 since entering the race after Cheney’s vote to impeach Trump in January. Gray has raised less but both had $164,000 on hand at the end of March. Meanwhile, others are considering a run, including Perry Pendley, an acting director of the Bureau of Land Management during Trump’s time in office.

In an interview, Gray agreed Republicans need to unite behind one candidate. His campaign said he would consider the president's wishes but declined to say for certain whether he would get out of the race if Trump endorsed someone else.

“Wyoming Republicans are ready to rally around the most proven conservative legislator,” Gray said, touting his work on curbing abortion rights and energy issues. “My record shows that I'm that leader.”

While Cheney is not currently whipping support to beat back the challenge to her House leadership role, she still has formidable political advantages at home and will not be easy to beat. Cheney has a massive network of donors and $1.4 million in the bank. Her father, a former congressman and vice president, is still popular in the state. Former House Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan both helped raise money for her, and her donor disclosures are peppered with recognizable names, from former Bush-era Labor Secretary nominee Linda Chavez to political strategist Mary Matalin to Wal-Mart heiress Christy Walton.

While some in Wyoming still grouse that Cheney is a carpetbagger, having moved from Virginia for an aborted 2014 Senate run before winning her House seat two years later, Cheney also has a strong connection with the associations and groups that make up Wyoming’s oil and gas industry, an important sector of the state.

“Whether she's in leadership, or wherever she’s at, she has a Rolodex of contacts that are pretty impressive. And she can actually move the needle for Wyoming,” said former state Rep. Amy Edmonds, a former Cheney staffer. “She has some powerful industries behind her here in the state, and they're sticking with her.”

She will also have support from another of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January: Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.). His leadership PAC sent a fundraising plea for Cheney this week, and the new Kinzinger-aligned super PAC is also committed to defending Cheney. A person close to the group, which was formed to aid Republicans willing to buck Trump, said its donors view Cheney’s reelection as a top priority.

And then there’s Wyoming’s election law that allows voters to change their registration on the day of the primary. There are not many Democrats in Wyoming — Joe Biden got less than 27 percent of the vote there in 2020 — but that rule would allow Democrats and independents to boost Cheney in her proxy fight with Trump, should they wish.

“There's no question that crossover takes place, and, to some degree, influences elections,” said state Senate Minority Leader Chris Rothfuss, a Democrat.

Rothfuss said he won’t be switching his registration to back Cheney, but he suspects some family, friends and colleagues will.

“I know an awful lot of Democrats, myself included, that gained a great deal of support for her integrity due to many of her recent decisions, votes and statements over the past few years,” he said.

‘Doomsday scenario’: Lagging vaccine rates stir fears of dangerous variants

Politico -

Health officials are worried that pockets of the country slow to get vaccinated against Covid-19 could turn into breeding grounds for more dangerous virus variants, mimicking the experience in South Africa and Brazil.

Vaccination rates have been falling for weeks in parts of the South and mountain West, prompting the White House to rethink its vaccination strategy to reach those reluctant or unwilling to get the shots.

Nearly 45 percent of all Americans have at least one dose compared to 33 percent of Alabamans. The rates are roughly the same in Mississippi and Louisiana and only slightly better in Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Tennessee and Wyoming, where hospitals are no longer overrun but case counts have plateaued. Officials say the virus remains a persistent enough threat to kill hundreds each day and potentially mutate into something that puts even vaccinated people at heightened risk.

Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday it is essential to quickly get vaccination rates to 70 percent in each community to cut chains of virus transmission, because "variants are a wildcard that could reverse this progress we have made and could set us back."

But with doubts growing about the ability to reach the 70 percent target, the question is whether the country’s luck curbing the pandemic will hold out. Sequencing of the virus to detect mutations may be one of the best public health tools for warding off a potential disaster. But the actual sequencing being done in the U.S. is still below ideal levels, and there are no guarantees that it can provide enough early warning that the stealthy, evolving virus won’t turn into something far more dangerous.

“Every successive transmission is an opportunity for a new variant to emerge,” said Joseph Kanter, Louisiana’s state health officer. "We have been quite fortunate that the variants that have emerged remain fairly good matches to the vaccines we have. We are not guaranteed to be so fortunate in the future.”

While all viruses mutate as they spread, the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 has evolved relatively slowly compared to HIV and influenza. But occasionally one or more mutations — or random changes — will produce a new variant that behaves differently than existing strains of the virus. The huge number of Covid cases worldwide has fueled numerous "variants of concern," so named because they appear to be more transmissible, more virulent or render vaccines less effective.

The highly contagious variant B.1.1.7, first identified in the U.K, is now the dominant strain in the U.S. and has been blamed for rising hospitalizations among younger people. Variants that originated in hard-hit places like New York, California and India have also been identified.

“Every time there is a new variant, there is a nervous question we ask: 'Is this the doomsday scenario?'" said Shereef Elnahal, CEO of University Hospital in Newark, N.J., and a former state health commissioner.

The U.S. to date has been fortunate that all three vaccines authorized for use appear to work relatively well against the known variants, even though the one first identified in South Africa has posed a challenge for some other shots in use elsewhere or still under development.

Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, told POLITICO Wednesday that the risk of dangerous variants may already be diminished because of the recent pace of vaccinations.

“If an overwhelming portion of the population is vaccinated, it’s unlikely you’ll see the kind of surge like we saw in January,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to get to that end game.”

The states struggling the most to vaccinate are the same ones that have a host of poor public health outcomes, particularly in rural communities. Local and state officials point to conservative-leaning populations often skeptical of government, as well as spotty health infrastructure that leaves lower-income residents struggling to access a medical provider. Mississippi state health officer Thomas Dobbs last week said many rural residents are unaccustomed to seeking care until they are sick, and that it’s going to take more than a few public service announcements to change the culture.

In Alabama, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, cases have increased slightly over the last month, concerning public health officials who fear it’s only a matter of time before a variant of concern emerges.

“It’s a very real threat,” said Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the infectious disease division at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. “If you have a population that is not well vaccinated and you combine that with a lot of activity likely to spread the virus — where things could take off.”

The Biden administration is still grappling with how to address these pockets of the country with stubbornly high Covid caseloads and low vaccine uptake. During the recent coronavirus spike in Michigan, federal personnel helped with sequencing, testing, tracing and offered more therapeutics in an effort to quell the worst outbreak in the country. The CDC is spending $3 billion to help local officials expand their vaccine programs and, in March, the federal health department sent $250 million to states so they could partner with community organizations to get out the message that the vaccines are safe and effective.

The government is also working to significantly increase sequencing capacity in the coming months with the infusion of $1.7 billion for variant surveillance and response measures included in March’s Covid relief package. The money will help the CDC, state labs and academic researchers develop new ways to sequence the virus and better share information on where and how variants are spreading.

“Our biggest threat to progress would be a variant that was capable of eluding the therapeutics and vaccines that we currently have,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the lead author of the funding provision. “That's why I feel like we have to be so vigilant.”

For now, though, public health officials have been reluctant to mandate the vaccine or set up any kind of government passport system to verify a person's vaccination status. Instead, they’re stressing that the country break down vaccine resistance incrementally and not resign itself to pockets of unvaccinated Americans where Covid spreads.

“This laissez-faire attitude is not the right one,” said Oscar Alleyne, chief of programs at the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

Laws banning transgender student athletes splinter GOP

Politico -

Republicans saw a ready-made wedge issue to rally the GOP’s base when, soon after Joe Biden took office, he moved to expand protections for transgender people, including in school sports.

The president and his Democratic allies, conservatives said, were ruining women’s athletics, and Republican lawmakers across the country advanced a raft of bills designed to keep transgender women and girls from playing on female teams.

Yet what once promised to be a galvanizing force for the Republican Party ahead of the midterm elections and 2024 has instead devolved into a source of division within the GOP, hobbling one potential presidential contender — Kristi Noem — and pitting other Republican governors against lawmakers of their own party.

First Utah’s Republican governor, Spencer Cox, bucked the GOP’s conservative base, declaring in February that he wouldn’t sign a bill banning transgender women and girls from playing female sports. Then Noem, the South Dakota governor, waffled on transgender legislation in her state, infuriating conservatives. In late April, the Republican governor of neighboring North Dakota, Doug Burgum, vetoed a similar bill.

Most recently, Caitlyn Jenner, a California Republican who announced her bid for governor last month, voiced support for the bans. The former Olympic gold medalist, who came out as transgender in 2015, told TMZ that banning transgender women and girls from competitive sports was "a question of fairness."

Far from a unifying new fixture in the GOP’s culture wars, the question of how to treat transgender student athletes is instead inflaming rifts within the party — and quickly becoming a litmus test for Republicans who aspire to higher office.

“For those who dream about a 2024 future, starting with Kristi Noem,” said Bill McCoshen, a Wisconsin-based Republican strategist, “you don’t want to be in a position to be against your own party, which all of those governors have done so far.”

He said: “It will help certain voters decide who the conservatives are in the race.”

The crush of legislation advanced by Republicans in states throughout the country blocking transgender youths from joining sports teams that match their gender identity has been extraordinary. Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and West Virginia have all passed such bans this year. Meanwhile, several other bills in states with Republican-dominated legislatures and GOP governors are moving toward passage. Bills in states where Republicans have a government trifecta — Florida, Montana, Oklahoma and Texas — have already cleared at least one chamber, though efforts in Texas appear to be headed for defeat.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ advocacy group, is tracking at least 66 state bills that restrict transgender youths’ access to sports teams, part of a wave of legislation that advocates say has been introduced and, in some cases, adopted with unprecedented speed.

“This is one of the worst — maybe the worst — state legislative sessions we’ve had for transgender people,” said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

The issue has made unlikely allies of some women's advocacy groups and social conservatives, who have jointly pushed states to adopt laws restricting participation to athletes assigned female at birth. Though advocates have denied accusations that the state bills are a coordinated effort, groups like the Alliance for Defending Freedom have circulated principles they believe lawmakers should adopt.

LGBTQ advocacy groups, including the ACLU, have responded by recruiting transgender youth and their families to speak at press conferences and testify in state capitals, aiming to highlight for both lawmakers — and the public — that these bills ultimately ostracize real students.

“They’ve had no compunction in putting trans youth and their well being front and center in order to try to score political points,” said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director at the Human Rights Campaign. “When people understand what has happened, they are going to respond very negatively, and the folks who have thought that this was a winning political strategy are very quickly going to learn that they were wrong.”

For proponents of the bills, the expectation was that the dual focus on transgender people and women’s sports would not only rally the conservative base, but also appeal to suburban women who fled the Republican Party during the Trump era.

In late February, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, former President Donald Trump warned attendees that Democratic policies to protect transgender people from discrimination could “destroy” women’s sports. Potential 2024 candidates like Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) echoed that rhetoric during a Judiciary Committee hearing on the Equality Act in March. Cruz argued that the federal legislation, if passed, would effectively eliminate girls sports.

In an interview shortly before Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law a transgender sports ban in March, Republican state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge told POLITICO the focus was maintaining a fair and level playing field for girls. But she also nodded to a political calculation.

“For decades, we have talked about how the liberal left does not view women as anything other than a voting bloc, and they treat women as single-issue voters,” Rutledge said. “Well, now, as it turns out, it’s actually Republicans who have … been supporting women and their rights, and this particular issue highlights that.”

The conservative group Heritage Action for America pointed to Biden’s executive order preventing discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation as a rallying force against transgender girls competing in girls sports. In 2019, the group conducted a poll on a variety of social issues, including transgender athletes. The group’s survey found that 62 percent of Americans opposed transgender girls being permitted to play high school and amateur sports on girls teams.

“We really go where the movement is, so it’s more about what are the American people talking about, what do they care about, what are they engaged in?” said Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action. “I don’t think we should be afraid to tackle and discuss complex issues that are about civil society and that reflect the biology of a girl and the biology of a boy. Conservatives shouldn’t run away from that.”

'You guys did a bad job'

But even among Republicans, public polling is far more mixed, with one recent measure finding that while Republican voters overwhelmingly say transgender students should not be allowed to play on teams that match their gender identity, they do not support legislation enforcing a ban.

In addition, Republican governors have come under pressure from corporate America and the NCAA not to enact discriminatory bills. Noem, who issued a partial veto of a transgender sports ban before signing weaker executive measures, told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson under blistering questioning last month that she feared the NCAA would “bully” South Dakota. She even suggested the NCAA would pull tournaments from the state if a ban was enacted.

When Carlson accused Noem of “caving” to the NCAA, she said: “We’re a small state, Tucker. We’ve had to fight hard to get any tournaments to come to South Dakota.”

Her concerns were not empty. In an April 1 letter to HRC President Alphonso David, NCAA President Mark Emmert expressed concern over “the numerous bills that have been filed across our country related to sport participation.”

“[T]his legislation is harmful to transgender student-athletes and conflicts with the NCAA’s core values of inclusivity, respect and the equitable treatment of all individuals,” Emmert wrote. “The NCAA continues to closely monitor and assess state bills and federal guidelines that impact student-athlete participation.”

Still, Noem came under fire from conservatives who accused her of both going back on her word and abusing her power as governor. Headlining a fundraiser for the Kansas Republican Party last month, she was compelled to defend her position to Republican activists. And she is still suffering for her position in her home state. South Dakota state Rep. Rhonda Milstead, who sponsored the bill that cleared the legislature, said she was shocked Noem sent it back with recommended changes.

Indeed, Noem's partial veto was a walkback from her earlier stance. On International Women’s Day, March 8, Noem tweeted that her state was celebrating “by defending women’s sports!” “I’m excited to sign this bill very soon,” she wrote of Milstead’s bill after it cleared the state Senate. But then she partially vetoed the bill and asked lawmakers to exclude collegiate sports for fear of angering the NCAA.

“It’s disappointing that somebody who was so excited to sign something would come back and say that it was poorly written,” said Milstead, who insisted the bill was well vetted and months in the making.

Milstead said Noem didn’t participate in any discussions when lawmakers reached out on the front end before the bill was introduced. And her veto, Milstead added, sent the message to the legislature that “you guys did a bad job, but I can do a better job.”

“Style and form is your punctuation, your grammar, maybe a code change,” Milstead said, explaining the governor’s veto. “It’s not content. It’s overreach on the part of the executive branch.”

Instead, Noem signed two executive orders in March in both K-12 and college athletics ordering that “only females, based on their biological sex, … shall participate in any girls’ or women’s athletic event.” In a statement, Noem suggested her executive actions were a temporary fix, noting she would work with Republican leaders to schedule a special legislative session to tackle this issue and others.

To some traditionalist Republicans, the entire fight has, if not self-injurious, been a waste of time.

“It’s just silly,” said Sean Walsh, a Republican strategist who worked in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses. “Of the great political issues and great outrages of our time, this one just doesn’t hit the meter, you know?”

With all of the other issues that Republicans could be talking about, he said: “I just don’t see the entire world clamoring over transgender athletes in sports … I just think it’s a lot of time and effort for not really much of an issue.”

'It's a tragedy'

Supporters of the legislative push to restrict teams based on sex often point to a highly charged legal battle in Connecticut, where three high school runners sued the state last year for allowing transgender athletes to compete based on their gender identity. The student athletes argued they were denied titles and athletic opportunities as a result, though one of the runners subsequently clinched a state title and two now run for college teams.

Last year, Utah became the first state to pass a law restricting transgender women and girls from participating in women's sports. The law has since been tied up in legal battle that could have repercussions for those states passing bans of their own.

The Connecticut case was spearheaded by the Alliance for Defending Freedom, a conservative advocacy group that has been pressing for states to pass bills restricting transgender athletes. Since then, ADF has advocated for states to adopt legislation that divides teams from kindergarten through college based on sex assigned at birth and provides athletes with legal recourse if schools impose other policies, said senior counsel Matt Sharp.

ADF emphasizes those points when legislators ask for input on their legislation or when it's asked to testify at hearings around the country, Sharp said.

“There's just a real desire among a lot of legislators to take just very meaningful, but common sense, steps to preserve female sports while still allowing students to fully compete,” Sharp said. “Not trying to deprive opportunities for anyone, but really preserving those important, vital opportunities for female athletes.”

But in the sports world, some people wish the Republican Party would stop politicizing the issue altogether.

The Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, an organization founded by former athletes and sports administrators, advocates for finding a middle ground that preserves female sports without excluding transgender athletes. The group argues for allowing youth to play on teams that match their gender identity before puberty and, in later years, imposing rules that account for physiological advantages to being born male.

“I hate to say this: I really think sport is being used, in a way, as a wedge,” said Donna de Varona, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who co-founded the group. De Varona said LGBTQ advocates are too willing to scrap decades of progress in women’s sports, while conservative groups have latched onto the issue to stifle transgender equality.

“It’s a tragedy, what’s happening,” de Varona continued. “And we foresaw it and that’s why we wanted the middle ground. I think everybody wins if during the passage of the Equality Act, which is what this is all about, we carve out language to protect the intent of Title IX.”

David Siders contributed to this report.

Giuliani cuts down his entourage

Politico -

Rudy Giuliani, the former personal lawyer for ex-president Donald Trump, has reduced the size of his personal entourage, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Giuliani laid off several staffers and independent contractors in the last few weeks, according to one of the people, who said the ousted employees had been told that the former New York mayor was seeking to cut costs.

Giuliani has enlisted a part-time driver, Eric Ryan, the son of his friend Maria Ryan, according to one of the people familiar with the matter. But he no longer moves around Manhattan with the full complement of as many as five people he has kept around him in recent years. (Ryan didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

The news of Giuliani’s shrinking entourage comes after years of stories suggesting he might be having financial difficulties — or is at least seeking creative ways to make money as he manages his growing legal woes.

The Trump confidant, recently raided by the FBI as he faces an intensifying criminal probe, has reportedly faced a cash crunch before, with multiple divorces said to be taking a toll on his balance sheet. In October 2019, the Washington Post reported that Giuliani was giving his ex-wife Judith $42,000 a month in alimony; a sum amounting to more than half a million dollars a year. The Post also reported that Giuliani had made between $7 and $9 million in both 2016 and 2017.

That same month, Giuliani accidentally left a voicemail for a reporter in which he said, “The problem is we need some money.”

The remark, while cryptic, nonetheless reinforced the idea that the high-flying Giuliani — a frequent habitué of pricey outlets like the Trump International Hotel in D.C., where room rates can run in the high hundreds of dollars a night and a spoonful of wine can cost up to $140, and the Grand Havana Room, a members-only cigar bar in New York — was in need of cash. A lawyer for Giuliani’s wife also alleged in court documents that he dropped tens of thousands of dollars on a private jet subscription service, $40,000 for a friend’s son’s dental work, $7,000 on fountain pens and $12,000 on cigars.

Since leaving public office, Giuliani’s sources of income have been somewhat opaque. He has served as an attorney for Greenberg Traurig, a powerhouse international law firm headquartered in New York. In 2018, he left the firm amid a dispute over his public defense of Trump, according to the New York Times.

Giuliani has also done security and legal consulting for numerous entities, including foreign governments like Qatar and other high-profile clients ranging from Iranian opposition group MEK to a Ukrainian oligarch and a Turkish-Iranian gold trader wanted by the U.S. government.

In mid-November of last year, the New York Times reported that Giuliani had demanded $20,000 a day in legal fees in exchange for representing the ex-president as he contested the 2020 election. Though Giuliani had denied it, according to the Washington Post, Trump reportedly balked at the figure and told aides not to pay it. Giuliani allies, led by his son Andrew, also made a push this week to get Trump to pay for Giuliani’s mounting legal fees.

A lawyer for Giuliani declined to comment. Giuliani didn’t respond to requests for comment, and a spokesperson didn’t provide a comment.

Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.

Opinion | Does your child’s teacher know how to teach?

Politico -

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated harmful educational inequalities in the preK-12 public education system. The nation’s poorest students, Black and Latino students, and our disabled students have been the most negatively impacted by school closings necessitated by the pandemic. Black students in high poverty schools have been especially hard hit because of the racialized, historic and ongoing disinvestment in the education of Black children and youth.

One of the most obvious — and dangerous — ways this inequality shows up is by channeling a proportionally larger share of less qualified or alternatively credentialed teachers to schools with higher percentages of Black, Latino and disabled students. Black and Latino students are more likely than their white peers to be taught by teachers in training who are in alternative teacher preparation programs. These alternative route programs differ from traditional teacher preparation programs in at least one significant way: Most alternative route teacher interns become teachers of record prior to completing any teacher training. This means that as teachers in training, they are not profession-ready on Day 1. They are training on the backs of our neediest students — the students who most need a profession-ready teacher.

The pandemic and racial unrest have revealed just how much further the nation has to go to fulfill children’s constitutional right to equal educational opportunity. State constitutions define this right to an education in beautiful and compelling language as a "democratic imperative," "fundamental value" and "paramount duty." Yet, despite these powerful phrases, nearly 30 years of research shows that in schools serving students of color where 50 percent or more are on free or reduced lunch (one indicator of poverty status), these students are 70 percent more likely to have a teacher who is not certified or does not have a college major or minor in the subject area they teach. This finding holds true across four critical subject areas: mathematics, English, social studies, and science.

A review of the typical requirements for traditional teacher preparation and alternative programs — especially those that are not based at universities — reveals just how different the programs are in terms of substantive coursework and the length of time spent devoted to reflective and supervised practice under a fully certified and prepared preK-12 teacher (usually with at least three years of successful teaching experience) and university faculty member. It is clear that these two routes are not producing similar calibers of teachers and, even if they did, the alternative route program places an undue burden on the preK-12 students who are assigned a teacher-in-training as their full-time teacher of record.

This trend of placing untrained and uncertified individuals as teachers of record in schools serving the urban poor and disabled students is accelerating during the pandemic as states utilize more back door routes into classrooms through emergency certificates — in some states, these are granted to individuals with only a high school diploma. This practice is generating a new wave of uncredentialed teachers.

This reality is ill-matched to another circumstance: high stakes standardized tests and graduation examinations are more often used in states with higher percentages of Black and Latino students. How can we continue to educationally malnourish students, raise the bar on what they are expected to know and demonstrate on standardized tests, and lower the standards for the adults who teach them?

Teacher quality is clearly tied to opportunity to learn in four categories: the quality of resources, school conditions, curriculum and the teaching that students experience. Yet the data about each of these opportunity-to-learn categories reveal alarming trends. According to the Schott Foundation, which researches and advocates for racial justice in the public school system, Native American, Black and Latino students have just over half the opportunity to learn, compared to white non-Latino students in the nation’s best supported and best performing schools. Additionally, the Schott study found that low-income students of any race or ethnicity have just over half of the opportunity to learn, compared to the average white, non-Latino student. Therefore, the availability and placement of fully credentialed, profession-ready, caring and effective teachers for students of color and poor students is especially acute.

As citizens and leaders, we can certainly tinker around the edges of the current order and attempt to return to a pre-Covid sense of normalcy, but this will not serve the nation well. One reason is that students of color are now the majority of our public school population, which means the majority of today’s public school students have probably not benefited from the prevailing order. In sustained and systematic ways, the new majority of public school students have had their education and life chances stymied by a social contract that consistently ensures lack of access to the best educational resources: namely, teachers.

The federal courts have recognized this reality. Nearly a decade ago, in a case known as Renee v. Duncan, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the practice of disproportionately placing uncertified teachers, teachers in training or teacher interns in classrooms serving poor and minority students is “discriminatory” and “does harm.” Further, the court indicated that the appellants in the case provided evidence that 41 percent of interns in California taught in the 25 percent of schools with the highest concentration of students of color. Further, 61 percent of California’s teacher interns taught in the state’s poorest schools. The court starkly stated: “We conclude that the appellants established injury in fact. This disproportionate distribution of interns … results in a poorer quality education than appellants would otherwise have received.”

Not only is a disproportionate share of students of color saddled with teachers in training, remarkably, nearly 40 percent of special education teachers are coming from alternative preparation routes. This means that while these students come to school ready to learn, their teacher is not fully prepared to teach. They are learning. To teach. On them.

Clearly, the proliferation of ill-credentialed “teachers” and their placement in schools serving the urban poor is linked to a broader issue of the devaluing of public education and the students of color and poor students who have become the majority constituency of public schools. Unfortunately, common sense has not gotten us to equality of educational opportunity and educational equity. Research has not gotten us there. Court decisions and decrees have not gotten us there. State and federal policymaking has not gotten us there. Time has not gotten us there. And, though the Covid-19 pandemic is forcing us to reconfigure and recalculate how to deliver schooling, we should not revert to a “normal” that continues to disadvantage our students who are most in need.

So, what can be done to rectify these problems? There are at least three policy responses that will help:

— Enforce through federal and state statutes and regulations the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Renee v Duncan.

— Incentivize states to approve only those teacher preparation programs — whether they are university-based or not — that meet national accreditation standards.

— Incentivize states to work with districts to develop plans that equitably distribute fully certified, profession-ready teachers.

Ultimately, there are larger questions at stake. Are we as a nation prepared to confront our beliefs about whose children we deem worthy and unworthy of investment? Are we willing and able to dismember the infrastructure, mechanisms and policies that have us ideologically and financially disinvesting from children of color and children from families experiencing poverty? What state, district and school policies and practices routinely privilege white and affluent students and disenfranchise students of color and poor students? How do we move past a deficit perspective about Black and other students of color and create teaching and learning environments that affirm the intellectual capacity and cultural heritage of all students?

The Black Lives Matter movement and protests continue to rightly place structural racism front and center, reinvigorating discussions about diversity in the teacher workforce, the need to change curriculum content imagery and authorship so that it is not exclusively white, and the equitable assignment of teachers so that more students have access to profession-ready teachers.

The Black, Latino and poor children who are languishing in too many under-resourced schools will soon be the majority of adult Americans. They already constitute the majority of public school students. What will it mean for American democracy when these young people — many of whom have been pushed and held at the margins of the social, political and economic order — are the majority of adult citizens? Will their commitment to democracy and public schooling be resonant or absent? What we do now will answer this question in the near future.

Biden wants the nation to 'return to normal.' Will the White House follow?

Politico -

President Joe Biden is preparing to make his first international trip as president. White House and administrative staff are beginning to trickle into the West Wing in greater numbers. And additional journalists are working at the White House.

As the president this week set an ambitious goal to get 70 percent of Americans vaccinated by July Fourth and “return to normal,” 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is starting to open up. How much, however, remains unclear, in part because White House officials are reluctant to say.

Those officials insist they are moving cautiously and still working to balance medical guidance in the workplace and the realities of employees returning to work within cramped quarters. They’re also aware that every aspect of the Covid precautions they take — from mask-wearing to vaccinations — has been intensely scrutinized. That includes just how closely they’re adhering to their own medical guidance around how communities and workplaces should be reopening.

The White House is offering vaccines to all employees through its medical unit and allows staff to take time off to get vaccinations, but that’s rare, since the shots are available on the grounds themselves. The White House would not say what percentage of its staff has been vaccinated. When asked if vaccination was required to work in person, an official said only that it was encouraged, offered to all staff, and provided by the White House.

“I think that everybody espouses the overall position that you need to be vaccinated to take care of yourself, your friends and your family,” said Cedric Richmond, one of Biden’s small circle of senior advisers.

The White House would not disclose the number of staffers physically working on the White House grounds on a daily basis, with one official responding, “no comment.” Richmond, however, said he and his team come into the White House every day. Those who don’t are still able to do their jobs, he said.

“We’ve invested a lot in technology — the ability for people to remote work — and we’re being very careful and following the science,” Richmond said. Of a plan to add more staffers into the office this summer, he said, “I didn’t think many people would be interested in that, but I could be wrong.”

A White House official said it will be a gradual ramping up of in-office personnel.

“We are planning to begin a phased approach to bring those White House staff who have been working remotely back to campus later this summer. As we do so, we will continue to follow COVID protocols that have been developed in close consultation with our public health experts and advisors,” the official said in a statement.

Like millions of other American employers, the Biden White House is grappling with the thorny legal, ethical and operational questions involved in bringing a largely remote workforce back into an office environment. These questions have taken on greater scrutiny as a growing number of employees become fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Unlike many other employers, the White House is doing so under a microscope, conscious that any choices it makes can trigger a deluge of political criticism. That’s particularly true after the last White House, under President Donald Trump, hosted multiple superspreader events and refused to require masks.

Biden and his team have diligently stressed that they are breaking sharply from those past practices, particularly when it comes to mask wearing and in-person events. White House staff still primarily conduct video calls rather than in-person meetings and are still limiting visitors into the building, according to three people familiar with the practice. Advocates who work closely with the White House on a host of policy issues say the White House has continued to conduct all meetings virtually.

“All Zoom calls and phone calls for now still,” one said.

In the close confines of the West Wing, some communications staff currently take turns leaving the White House to work at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door, as part of an effort to keep offices less crowded.

Today, those who physically come into work vary in the West Wing. Most senior advisers around Biden are in the office every day. Some, including political director Emmy Ruiz, have been working out of state since Inauguration Day. But last week in a conference call with staff, Biden aides announced they would begin moving more people into the White House building. However, there were no clear, across-the-board directives and White House officials would not divulge the specifics on timing and number of personnel. A person familiar with the discussions on increasing in-person staff said it was not imminent.

Other departments are following suit with a pared-down in-office workforce. The State Department, for instance, has about 25 percent of its staff in the office and was still awaiting medical guidance before setting its next target.

The White House press briefing room is still limited to 14 reporters, but the White House Correspondents’ Association is working toward adding to those numbers, with a hope of expanding to 50 percent occupancy in the press room over the next several weeks, which would mean roughly 25 reporters at a briefing.

The biggest sign the presidency is inching back to normal is Biden’s travel, which includes an in-person commencement speech and more frequent domestic travel. The president, who had foregone foreign visits in his first months in office, will travel to Europe for his first overseas trip next month to attend a G-7 summit in the United Kingdom and a NATO summit in Belgium.

This week, Biden is scheduled to make two stops in Louisiana — New Orleans and Lake Charles — on Thursday as part of the Getting America Back on Track Tour to sell his $4 trillion in spending plans. It’s his fourth trip in less than a week with previous stops in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Since Jan. 20, Biden has made 10 trips total, aside from his regular weekend trips to Delaware or Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.

Last Thursday, to mark his 100th day in office, Biden traveled to Georgia to speak at a rally outside Atlanta. But instead of a traditional campaign event, mask-clad attendees sat in their cars honking their horns. Later this month, though, Biden will attend one of his largest events, an in-person graduation ceremony with hundreds of people. He will deliver the keynote address at the graduation of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut on May 19. Each of the 250 graduates will be allowed two guests, down from the usual six guests. “Fewer guests, masks, social distancing and pooling arrangements for the media are the primary precautions we are taking this year due to Covid-19,” said David Santos, an academy spokesperson.

First lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, are also traveling regularly. Jill Biden will be in Utah, Nevada and Colorado this week. Harris flew to Wisconsin Tuesday and to Rhode Island Wednesday. Emhoff visited Pennsylvania Wednesday and will be in Tennessee on Thursday. Still, the events for all four are limited to a select group of guests and members of the media.

Members of Congress, who started visiting the White House the first week of February, have been coming over now with more frequency. In total, the White House has hosted more than 130 lawmakers during the first 100 days of the administration, according to a White House tally. Biden is expected to host a group of Senate Republicans at the White House next week, including West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, to discuss his infrastructure plan.

Amy Dacey, the former CEO of the Democratic National Committee, who is in touch with administration officials, said in-person meetings between White House officials and lawmakers have been different because of vaccination schedules, but also because of the administration’s goals.

“The Biden administration has made it a priority that they want to work with Congress, so yes, some of those meetings are happening,” she said. “It’s important for them, for the work that they do in building these relationships in the early days of the administration, to have those conversations.”

Republicans have politicized Biden’s handling of Covid safety protocols, accusing him, for instance, of not modeling properly by limiting the joint address of Congress to 200 people and continuing to wear a mask outdoors despite being vaccinated.

“We do take some extra precautions for him because he is the president of the United States,” White House senior adviser Anita Dunn said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “But I would say that people should follow the CDC guidelines, and they should take advantage of getting the vaccine, getting fully vaccinated, and taking that mask off, particularly as the weather grows so beautiful and we all want to be outside.”

U.S. Justice Department worried about Arizona vote recount

Politico -

PHOENIX — The U.S. Department of Justice expressed concern Wednesday about ballot security and potential voter intimidation arising from the Republican-controlled Arizona Senate’s unprecedented private recount of the 2020 presidential election results in Maricopa County.

In a letter to GOP Senate President Karen Fann, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said the Senate’s farming out of 2.1 million ballots from the state’s most populous county to a contractor may run afoul of federal law requiring ballots to remain in the control of elections officials for 22 months.

And Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan said that the Senate contractor’s plans to directly contact voters could amount to illegal voter intimidation.

“Past experience with similar investigative efforts around the country has raised concerns that they can be directed at minority voters, which potentially can implicate the anti-intimidation prohibitions of the Voting Rights Act,” Karlan wrote. “Such investigative efforts can have a significant intimidating effect on qualified voters that can deter them from seeking to vote in the future.”

Karlan wants Fann to lay out how the Senate and its contractors will ensure federal laws are followed. She pointed to news reports showing lax security at the former basketball arena where the ballots are being recounted by hand.

Fann said Senate attorneys were working on a response she promised to share when it was completed.

The Justice Department letter came six days after voting rights groups asked federal officials to intervene or send monitors to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix at the state fairgrounds, where the ballots are being recounted.

“We are very concerned that the auditors are engaged in ongoing and imminent violations of federal voting and election laws,” said the letter sent by the Brennan Center for Justice, the Leadership Conference and Protect Democracy.

In other developments Wednesday, the Arizona Democratic Party has reached a deal with the Republican-controlled state Senate to ensure that voter and ballot privacy is guaranteed during an unprecedented recount of the 2020 presidential election results in Maricopa County.

The agreement reached Wednesday puts teeth in a court order that already required the Senate and its contractor, Florida-based Cyber Ninjas, to follow state laws around ballot privacy. Any violations of the agreement would be enforceable by seeking an emergency court order.

The agreement also puts in writing a verbal agreement between the Senate and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs that allows her to have three observers inside the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the state fairgrounds.

Under the court order, the Senate and Cyber Ninjas last week released their policies and procedures for the recount. Hobbs’ elections director, Bo Dul, told The Associated Press there were major problems with those rules, including that they seemed haphazard, lacked specifics and left much room for interpretation — something that is never allowed in ballot counts.

Dul noted that the policies allow counters to accept a large enough error rate to perhaps show Trump won the state. Such an outcome would not change the outcome of the election because the results were certified months ago in the state and Congress.

Hobbs on Wednesday sent a letter to the Senate’s liaison to its recount contractor, former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, formally laying out a series of problems with the policies.

“Mr. Bennett, as a former Secretary of State, you know that our elections are governed by a complex framework of laws and procedures designed to ensure accuracy, security, and transparency,” Hobbs wrote. “You also must therefore know that the procedures governing this audit ensure none of those things.”

The developments come as the counting of 2.1 million ballots from the November election won by President Joe Biden are off to a slow pace. Bennett told the Associated Press Tuesday night that teams doing a hand recount of the presidential race lost by former President Donald Trump and the U.S. Senate race won by Democrat Mark Kelly has tallied less than 10% of the ballots since starting on April 23.

Bennett said it is clear the count can’t be done by the time the deal allowing the Senate to use the Coliseum ends on May 14. Several days of high school graduations are set to begin on May 15.


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