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Jenner: 'I am all for the wall' at the border

Politico -

OAKLAND — Republican reality TV star and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner told Fox News that she is "all for the wall" — former President Trump's controversial southern border effort — and called it crucial to control illegal 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 told host Sean Hannity in her first major television interview since she entered the California governor's race nearly two weeks ago. The excerpt was released Wednesday ahead of an interview that will be broadcast at 6 p.m. Pacific Time.

But Jenner also appeared to support undocumented immigrants already living in the country.

"You have two questions here," she said. "One is stopping people from coming in illegally into the state. And then the second question is, what do we do with the people that are here? We are a compassionate country, okay? We are a compassionate state."

"I mean, some people we're going to send back, OK, no question about that," she added. "But I have met some of the greatest immigrants into our country."

The Republican's sit-down with Hannity in her hometown of Malibu seemed clearly aimed to put her squarely in the sights of GOP base voters and donors nationwide in the run-up to the California recall election challenging Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.

State elections officials last month announced that recall backers had secured at least 1.6 million valid signatures — more than enough to qualify the election likely to take place in the fall.

The drive largely relied on the state's Republican voters, and organizers fed on anger at Newsom over his pandemic restrictions on businesses, churches and schools. They collected the bulk of their signatures during the state's worst coronavirus spike from November to January, when the governor imposed a strict lockdown. Newsom also made a major misstep when he dined at one of the nation's most exclusive restaurants for a lobbyist friend's birthday party after suggesting that residents stay home and limit their interactions.

But California now has the nation's lowest coronavirus rate and businesses are starting to open on a wider scale, including Disneyland and professional sports stadiums. Vaccines are widely available, and residents have begun meeting with friends and family again after being fully inoculated.

Still, most of California's 6 million public schoolchildren don't have access to five-days-a-week of classroom instruction, a sticking point for critics, including Jenner and other Republican challengers. They have said they would open schools full-time if elected governor. Newsom has pushed local districts and labor unions to do the same, but he has given them control over the decisions.

Jenner, according to excerpts of the interview, portrayed herself as "an outsider" to the political process and the antidote to Newsom, saying she is now "in a race for solutions" to solve the state's most critical problems.

“I want to take that same fight, that same spirit, go to Sacramento, surround myself with some of the smartest people out there," she said. "I am an outsider... now I'm in a race for solutions."

Jenner also said it's important to be a role model for young people who are transgender. "And for me to be a role model, for them, to be out there," she said. "I am running for governor of the state of California, who would ever thunk that? We've never even had a woman governor.”

Opinion | Facebook’s Speech Policies Are Even More Arbitrary Than We Thought

Politico -

It is said that medieval scholastic philosophers debated how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

If so, they didn’t have anything on the amorphous and tendentious deliberations of Facebook regarding who is allowed to post on its social network, most pertinently the former president of the United States Donald J. Trump.

On January 7, the day after the Capitol riot, Facebook blocked Trump from posting indefinitely. It then kicked the matter to its oversight board, saying “You decide.” On Wednesday, the oversight board replied, “No, no — you decide.”

If Facebook had set out to demonstrate that it has awesome power over speech in the United States, including speech at the core of the nation’s political debate, and is wielding that power arbitrarily, indeed has no idea what its own rules truly are or should be, it wouldn’t have handled the question any differently.

The case of Facebook v. Trump is an open invitation to political actors to swoop in to reduce the social network’s power or write new rules for it, and indeed Trump-friendly Republicans are making loud calls for action.

It’s not clear what the best solution is, or even if there is a solution, but there’s obviously a problem.

In its wisdom, the Facebook oversight board said that it was “not permissible” for Facebook to impose an indeterminate, standardless penalty of indefinite suspension on Trump — then upheld the suspension!

It called on Facebook to review the suspension within six months and made some suggestions toward developing rules to follow in such cases, which has an Alice in Wonderland quality to it — verdict first, rules about whether the verdict is correct or not later.

The oversight board underlines the astonishing fact that in reaching its most momentous free-speech decision ever in this country, in determining whether a former president of the United States can use its platform or not, Facebook made it up on the fly.

“In applying this penalty,” the board writes of the suspension, “Facebook did not follow a clear, published procedure.”

This is like the U.S. Supreme Court handing down decisions in the absence of a written Constitution, or a home-plate umpire calling balls and strikes without an agreed-upon strike zone.

Two Trump posts on January 6 prompted the suspension. Trump’s video posted at 4:21 p.m. that day was too little, too late, but it wasn’t incitement. After expressing disgraceful “I feel your pain” sentiments about the rioters, Trump urged them to “go home and go home in peace.”

He followed this up with his egregious 6:15 p.m. post about these kind of things happening when elections are stolen, but said in that one, too, “Go home with love in peace.”

Facebook interpreted these posts as violations of its Community Standards on Dangerous Individuals and Organizations, which do not allow “organizations or individuals that proclaim a violent mission or are engaged in violence to have a presence on Facebook.” The standards cite the examples of mass murder, human trafficking, and organized violence or criminal activity.

The standards also forbid content that expresses support or praise for people involved in such activities, which is where Trump’s post supposedly crossed the line.

This is a tenuous violation. Facebook would have more credibility enforcing it if there was evidence that it scoured its platform removing the posts of people who expressed sentiments during the rioting associated with the George Floyd protests like, “I understand your frustration with policing and our system of justice, and admire your passion, but please, don’t loot or burn things.”

If Facebook just wanted to say that Trump is often noxious and dishonest in his social-media postings, that’d be understandable, but this would put it in the inherently subjective and highly contentious business of deciding which politicians are worthy and truthful and which are not.

Mark Zuckerberg had it right the first time, when, not too long ago, he was arguing it wasn’t Facebook’s role to circumscribe the nation’s political debate.

Some Republicans, like former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, are saying in response to the social network’s Trump decision that Facebook should be broken up. It’s not evident what authority the federal government would have to do that. More targeted attempts to force viewpoint-neutrality on social-media platforms might have unintended consequences and would raise their own free-speech concerns (the companies would argue they can’t be compelled to host speech they disapprove of).

But there can be no doubt that Facebook, already beset on all sides, has hung a lantern on its unsettling combination of power and caprice.

Facebook’s political nightmare deepens

Politico -

Facebook may have hoped that life in Washington would get easier after its appointed oversight board ruled on former President Donald Trump’s fate on the social network.

Instead, it is facing a whole new round of censure, especially from the right — months after the company suspended Trump over his remarks during the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, triggering calls from conservative lawmakers to break up, rein in or otherwise restrain the world’s biggest social media network.

And that means Facebook’s political threats from Republicans may be poised to get a lot worse, at a time when the pro-Trump wing of the GOP is feeling especially emboldened. Wednesday’s board decision arrived just as the former president’s supporters were poised to oust an anti-Trump apostate from their House leadership, with Trump’s vocal endorsement, and days after a squeeze on Democratic seats gave Republicans new reason to feel optimistic about their chances of reclaiming Congress next year.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy issued a warning in response to the ruling on Wednesday: “A House Republican majority will rein in big tech power over our speech.”

Now Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg face as much as six more months of public wrangling over a Trump controversy they had hoped to put behind them.

“It has blown up in their faces,” said Jim Steyer, CEO of the left-leaning group Common Sense Media, adding that the board basically said to Facebook, “We're kicking it back to you.”

The oversight board issued a mixed decision Wednesday, upholding Trump’s suspension but directing Facebook to revisit what the panel called the company’s “arbitrary” and “vague” decision-making. That puts the tech behemoth in the same unenviable spot it found itself in January: having to make a massive-yet-controversial call on how to handle accusations that Trump used its platform to help spark an insurrection.

The immediate result — Trump’s continued absence from Facebook’s 2.7-billion-member platform — fanned Republicans’ grievances about so-called cancel culture and allegations that the tech industry is biased against conservatives. And the ruling could deal more lasting damage if it serves to coalesce Republicans around a strategy to attack the company and its Silicon Valley cohorts.

There are indications that’s already happening.

Irate over Trump's latest muzzling on social media, Republicans flashed signs on Wednesday of warming to legal changes once thought off-limits for the traditionally business-friendly party, all to curtail Facebook’s conduct.

Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, gave a notable boost to calls for Congress to update U.S. antitrust laws, which until now have largely only gained traction among the populist, anti-Big Tech wing of the GOP. “Big Tech has a choice: Have the same standards for ALL—or—we look at antitrust laws to limit their monopolistic power,” he tweeted.

Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, voiced support for legislation to treat social media companies as common carriers, a dramatic move that could strip them of their ability to exclude certain users from their services. That echoed a recent suggestion from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who used a recent case to express alarm about the “control of so much speech in the hands of a few private parties.”

“Even with rank and file voters right now, there's just a serious distrust of the system, and I think that's why you're seeing the fight against Big Tech censorship as priority issues,” said Jon Schweppe, director of policy and government affairs at the American Principles Project, a conservative think tank.

Republican strategists and activists said the lawmakers’ remarks are emblematic of the shifting tides in the GOP against the power of the Big Tech companies, which are beginning to converge around possible avenues to strike back at Silicon Valley companies. That includes efforts to revamp U.S. antitrust laws and to roll back the liability shield that protects digital platforms from lawsuits over the content of users’ posts.

It’s a progression from the GOP attacks against Silicon Valley during the Trump era, which saw support for those changes pick up significant steam only during his final months in office.

“Republicans are still moving past where they were four years ago, which is openly defending Big Tech, to two years ago, where it was [Sen.] Josh Hawley out on a limb,” said Schweppe. “And now I think it's become the mainstream view of the party that something needs to be done. So we just have to figure out what that policy is specifically going to be.”

“Republicans are responding to the evidence that just keeps piling up that there's a market distortion, there's a power imbalance [in Big Tech] and they're looking at what tools are available to them,” said Rachel Bovard, senior policy director at the Conservative Partnership Institute.

The Facebook oversight board’s ruling marked an immediate setback to Trump’s potential campaign fundraising efforts ahead of a 2024 run, by at least temporarily shutting off his access to the platform’s powerful organizing tools. Still, conservative leaders made the case Wednesday that the party could harness accusations that Silicon Valley is stifling conservatives to rally support ahead of the 2022 midterms, and potentially even take back the House.

“@facebook thank you for securing the GOP majority come 2022,” tweeted Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus.

The ordeal also emboldened Facebook’s critics on the left, who seized on the ruling Wednesday to call for more sweeping government action against the platform. While the board upheld the ban on Trump’s account, fulfilling a longstanding wish among some liberal advocacy groups and officials, Democratic lawmakers indicated they were largely unimpressed by the quasi-judicial proceedings. And they said it underscored the need for the federal government to take a more active role in policing the platforms, rather than letting Facebook regulate itself.

“While this is a welcome step by Facebook, the reality is that bad actors still have the ability to exploit and weaponize the platform,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said in a statement. “Policymakers ultimately must address the root of these issues, which includes pushing for oversight and effective moderation mechanisms to hold platforms accountable for a business model that spreads real-world harm.”

At the same time, critics of the company cautioned that as long as a political lightning rod like Trump is at the center of Facebook’s problems, it could make it harder to find agreement in Washington about how to respond.

“When Donald Trump is in the conversation, we're talking about political speech, we're talking about content moderation, we’re talking about individual things that people say,” not the company’s broader structural problems, said Rashad Robinson, CEO of the racial justice group Color of Change.

Newsom's AG pick will test California's mood on criminal justice

Politico -

OAKLAND — Becoming California's top cop may have been the easy part. Keeping the job is another story.

Rob Bonta was Gov. Gavin Newsom's choice for state attorney general after eight years as a liberal Democratic state lawmaker. He was celebrated in March by police reformers and Asian American organizations as a groundbreaking pick at a time of social upheaval.

But Bonta has routinely been at odds with law enforcement, who remain powerful in California and could very well back a credible challenger. Whether Bonta survives next year in his first statewide election will be the ultimate test of whether this once tough-on-crime state has truly changed.

Bonta enters as one of the nation's most liberal attorneys general and has repeatedly spoken about a lack of trust between law enforcement and the communities they police. His ascension comes as reform-minded prosecutors have come to power around California and the country and ignited a fierce battle with from law enforcement. Bonta is allied with those prosecutors.

“I’ve been proud to partner with each of you to pass a number of big reforms and to right historic wrongs — to repair our criminal justice system,” Bonta told lawmakers during his confirmation hearing, adding that he hoped to make California “a national vanguard for reform.”

Bonta, 48, takes over a position that has become a prime Democratic stepping stone. The last three state AGs were now-Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Vice President Kamala Harris, and former Gov. Jerry Brown.

Eight years ago, Bonta arrived in Sacramento in the midst of a generational shift in thinking on law and order. Emboldened by durable Democratic majorities in both houses of the Legislature and victories at the ballot box, California lawmakers have spent years repudiating the state’s tough-on-crime past by pushing to reduce incarceration and cut down sentencing. Bonta’s record as a lawmaker aligns him firmly with that trend.

Still, voters remain unpredictable. While they affirmed sentencing rollbacks at the ballot last year, they also chose to keep California's cash bail system, overriding the Legislature's attempt to ban it.

Two serious Bonta challengers have emerged and more could follow. Republican Nathan Hochman, a former assistant U.S. attorney general, and independent Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced they would run soon after Bonta was confirmed last month.

Schubert in particular could pose a tough challenge if she survives the June top-two primary. She left the Republican Party in 2018 and has won big headlines for playing a lead role in solving the Golden State Killer crime spree — perhaps the state's most puzzling cold case in the last 50 years — and helping to identify inmates who were illegally collecting unemployment benefits from California during the pandemic.

She said in an interview that “some of these bills that Bonta is supporting or passing” fuel “the continual erosion of crime victims rights and really a danger to public safety.”

The campaign could morph into the latest referendum on California’s aggressive moves away from stringent sentencing and incarceration. A new class of progressive prosecutors like Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón and San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin has come to power in California, channeling a national racial justice movement and tapping into a national fundraising network that can counter the deep resources of law enforcement unions. Bonta endorsed Gascón and has worked with Boudin on police use-of-force legislation.

Both Boudin and Gascón have faced headwinds since their election. They are staring down recall campaigns, and a statewide group representing prosecutors joined with Los Angeles line attorneys in suing to block Gascón’s efforts to suspend sentencing enhancements, expanding a rift between the majority of California’s prosecutors and a new generation of reformers. Schubert is a leader in the prosecutors' group, the California District Attorneys Association.

Bonta’s reelection campaign is likely to reproduce those dynamics on a statewide scale. Bonta predicted at his introductory press conference that “a lot of folks [are] prepared to get behind an election.” Law enforcement interests could throw their weight behind a candidate who rejects the agenda of reformers like Bonta and Gascón.

Schubert already has repudiated Gascón, refusing to share jurisdiction on cases with him, and she said in an interview that “when Gascón and Chesa Boudin are the ones tweeting out their overwhelming support for [Bonta], anyone who’s concerned about public safety should be concerned about this nomination.”

“I believe crime victims’ rights have been eviscerated and they have been ignored by these types of individuals,” she said.

Bonta political adviser Dana Williamson responded that Schubert is "tremendously flawed" and called the Sacramento prosecutor's criticisms "Trumpian lies" in a likely preview of campaign messaging next year. Williamson was quick to point to CDAA's misuse of $2.9 million in enforcement funds on political activities and Schubert decisions not to prosecute officers in high-profile police shootings.

"She has refused to bring excessive force cases and serves as treasurer of an organization that misspent millions meant to prosecute polluters," Williamson said in a statement. "Now she wants to lead the Department of Justice — the same entity that is investigating her organization's misdeeds."

Bonta’s history has trained him for a legal career while orienting him toward activism. His parents helped organize California farm workers, giving him a front-row seat from the family trailer — provided by the powerful United Farm Workers — to one of the state’s most storied social justice movements. That experience ensured, in Bonta’s words, that “their fight for justice has been hardwired into who I am.” He went on to earn undergraduate and law degrees from Yale, where he captained the soccer team, before working as an attorney for San Francisco and as a health care official and then vice mayor of Alameda.

He won his East Bay Assembly seat in 2012, wearing a traditional barong tagalog for his swearing in as he became the first Filipino-American to serve in the Legislature. Throughout his time there, Bonta has been a reliably progressive vote at the leftward end of Sacramento’s ever-growing Democratic caucus, and his bills show a long-running commitment to overhauling how California incarcerates immigrants and inmates — repeatedly putting him at odds with influential law enforcement interests.

He fought for years to limit California’s use of private detention facilities, in 2019 securing a ban on for-profit prison contracts. His efforts to phase out cash bail culminated in a law banning the practice that voters subsequently overturned. He sought repeatedly to limit California’s cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He has pushed to expand compensation for crime victims and to offer services like condoms and pregnancy care to inmates. He firmly opposes the death penalty.

Bonta has also pushed year after year to have California collect more precise data on Asian American subgroups. One of his first bills signed into law required state curricula on California’s farmworker movement to cover the contributions of Filipino-Americans like his parents.

That record helped build an alliance of criminal justice reformers and Asian Americans who pushed Newsom to appoint Bonta attorney general — a message that gained urgency after a wave of anti-Asian violence. In an interview, Bonta said it was possible to be “smart on crime, while pursuing accountability, supporting our victims and enforcing our existing laws is the right way.”

Progressive backers hope Bonta will continue pushing to reduce incarceration and policing in marginalized communities, forego the death penalty and advocate for more police accountability. During his confirmation hearing, Bonta endorsed legislation that would allow California to decertify peace officers for misconduct — a priority for reformers.

“What's happening in the world is we're talking about accountability for individual officers, as we just saw with the Derek Chauvin trial,” said Melina Abdullah, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Los Angeles Chapter, “but we're not talking about accountability for departments. And so we'd love to have Bonta engage in a way that brings accountability for departments.”

That accountability would include investigating police departments when officers shoot and kill suspects, Abdullah said. One of Bonta’s tasks will be enforcing a new state law requiring his office to take over police slaying investigations — which was enacted last year after years of thwarted attempts.

Bonta will have just months on the job before he has to stand for reelection in 2022. That he represents a safely Democratic seat in the liberal Bay Area brings advantages and disadvantages: a lack of competitive elections has let him pile up a $2.4 million war chest, but it also means Bonta has never been truly tested during election season and has scant statewide name recognition.

Despite the competitive election ahead, Bonta can win public opinion, said Tinisch Hollins, the executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice. She points to the elections of Gascón and Boudin as an indication that voters want progressive-minded law enforcement officials.

“There will always be a public political debate about it,” said Hollins, “but when we look at where folks have placed their priorities in terms of what they want to see around public safety, AG Bonta and others like him are on the right track.”

Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen, a progressive who was on Newsom’s short list for the attorney general nomination, said he believes California voters have a strong desire to see “smart and balanced” criminal justice reform that will be reflected during the election, but cautioned that there’s “very little appetite for a radical dismantling of the criminal justice system.”

“It's not defunding police, it's not tearing down the jail, it's not closing all the prisons,” he continued. “I think [voters] are looking for solutions that keep them and their families safe, and that reduce crime in a humane and effective way.”

Law enforcement groups are taking a cautious approach for now, wary of antagonizing the state’s new top prosecutor before he takes office. San Francisco Police Officers Association head Tony Montoya said Bonta’s record would put him to the left of any prior California attorney general, but Montoya said he remains optimistic they can find common ground as long as Bonta acts “based on the law and the facts” and “with the least amount of politics involved.”

El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson, who heads the California District Attorneys Association, argued Bonta will come to power at a critical moment for public safety, pointing to a “staggering” surge in homicides in Los Angeles and criticizing Gascon’s “reckless” policies.

“It’s a big responsibility, and we’re really hoping he’s a serious attorney general that will recognize some of those serious problems we’re facing,” Pierson said. “In Los Angeles, and to a lesser extent in San Francisco people don’t feel safe.”

WATCH: The GOP civil war is heating up

Politico -

It has been nothing but drama since the Republicans returned from their retreat in Florida. The top two Republicans in the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, seem intent on booting Rep. Liz Cheney from her leadership position as House Conference Chair. This week, Ryan Lizza breaks down the latest infighting in the Republican Party, and what that means for the small band of anti-Trump Republicans.

Opinion | The Real Reason Republicans Want to Oust Liz Cheney

Politico -

To hear most media observers tell it, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) is being martyred for having the courage of her convictions, and the House Republican Conference can no longer abide her truth-telling. Republican lawmakers, the narrative goes, are campaigning to oust her from her leadership role as the No. 3 Republican in the House because she has continued to make Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud the center of her public remarks.

But that is a partial understanding of the dynamics at work, which have more to do with the inside game essential to political survival in Washington, including Cheney’s ability—or inability, as the case may be—to cultivate the loyalty of colleagues, donors and friendly journalists. At this point, the conflict isn’t so much about Cheney’s principles; it’s about the way she’s gone about articulating them, publicly and privately.

In conversations with nearly a dozen GOP operatives and lawmakers, many of whom are now indifferent to or supportive of Cheney’s ouster, they say they are not unsympathetic to her views either on Trump or on foreign policy, where she is and always has been an important voice within the Republican Party. That’s in part why, just three months ago, Cheney beat back—by a convincing margin—an attempt to oust her from House leadership.

But Republican lawmakers and GOP operatives alike are frustrated that, after standing by her, Cheney has repaid the favor by continuing to draw attention to an issue that divides Republicans, rather than training her fire on the Biden administration. And while, yes, it is possible to do both, take a look at the headlines and see which message is getting more traction.

Cheney’s allies say that allowing Trump to promulgate lies about the election, as he has done since November, risks another insurrection. She has every right to make that her focus. But it’s one thing to do that as a rank-and-file member; her job as conference chairwoman is to help the party regain a House majority next year by rallying Republicans around a message that unites them and damages Democrats’ prospects.

The divide is deeper than pro- or anti-Trump. Rather, it’s a disagreement about how influential an out-of-office Trump continues to be on the party and whether, politically speaking, GOP energy is best spent fighting him or President Joe Biden. Cheney and her allies say Trump is an electoral loser for the GOP and won’t fade on his own; others argue his influence is diminishing and it’s disastrous to keep fighting the last war.

That sentiment is behind the exasperation with Cheney that extends even to some of the Republicans who joined her in voting for Trump’s second impeachment, according to two GOP lawmakers. They say Cheney is hurting the electoral prospects of the anti-Trumpers in the conference, who are being asked about her, rather than Biden, when they return home to their districts.

“People who voted to impeach stand by their decision, but they don’t want to be litigating that,” a top Republican operative told me. “We should be litigating why the Democrats suck and how Republicans are going to win the majority.”

Yet, in the immediate aftermath of the January 6 attack, Cheney told donors she wanted to make her forthcoming primary battle a referendum on the attacks, according to people on the call. It is not a message that resonates particularly well with a group that struggled with how to approach the Trump era altogether, and is eager to put the divisions of the past four years behind them.

Cheney might have understood her colleagues’ thinking better if she spent some more time hearing them out. POLITICO’s John Harris made the point in a column in March that asked, pointedly, why some politicians are such a--holes. He contrasted the friendless and scandal-plagued New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, with the late presidential adviser Vernon Jordan, a man of a thousand close friends. At the time, I wrote Harris telling him that Cheney was another example of the former, and the retired Gen. David Petraeus, who survived a public scandal mostly intact, of the latter.

Cuomo and Cheney don’t have much else in common, but both are second-generation politicos whose rise in public life was propelled in large part by their father’s networks. As a result, they seem to have learned less about what it takes to develop and maintain professional friendships and alliances.

Since Cheney’s arrival in Congress in 2017, I’ve heard complaints from operatives, donors and fellow reporters about Cheney’s political operation, which has been described as difficult, brittle, unresponsive and tone deaf. To wit, she is not working her colleagues to hold onto her leadership role. As repellent as it might seem, the cultivation of allies and the trading of favors is essential to political survival, a lesson Cheney seems to be learning the hard way.

As a counterexample to Cheney’s persistent focus on Trump, take Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose distaste for the former president is hardly a state secret and who has demonstrated that it’s possible to stand on principle without belaboring it. It wasn’t so long ago that McConnell, a ruthless political operative, called his vote to affirm the results of the November election the most important he had cast in his political career. The former president has responded by calling McConnell a “dumb son of a bitch.”

But asked about a recent Trump broadside, McConnell told Fox News last week: “We’re looking to the future, not the past. And if you want to see the future of the Republican Party, watch [Sen.] Tim Scott’s response to President Biden last night. … We’re not preoccupied with the past but looking forward.”

Or, as a second GOP operative put it: “She is choosing not to pivot. Mitch McConnell is no fan of Donald Trump, but he doesn’t say a goddamned word.”

Team Cheney argues that Trump remains a threat even if he is tapping out inanities from a beach chair at Mar-a-Lago, rather than from the Oval Office, and that Cheney’s silence would be a concession to Trump’s version of events.

But Cheney’s ideological allies are now left wondering: What is her end game?

The irony of the situation is that Cheney has rightfully derided some of her colleagues for using their positions to peacock for the most pathetic pro-Trump grifters and media outlets. Cheney’s audience is different, and her cause more righteous, but that’s where she is headed.

Meme Featuring DeSantis Presents Misleading Picture of COVID-19 and Vaccine Safety

FactCheck -

SciCheck Digest

COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2020. But a meme featuring Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis minimizes the toll the pandemic already has taken — particularly among the elderly. The meme also questions getting inoculated, despite the safety record of the vaccines and DeSantis’ public support for vaccines.

How lethal is COVID-19? How lethal is COVID-19?

It’s difficult to know exactly how deadly COVID-19 is, but as the World Health Organization has written, studies estimate that the infection fatality ratio, or percentage of deaths out of all infections, is between 0.5% and 1%. The true rate isn’t clear, since the pandemic is ongoing and not all infections have been diagnosed.

The case fatality rate, or percentage of deaths out of confirmed cases, was 1.8% in the United States as of March 31.

An individual’s risk of death may be significantly higher or lower than what these numbers suggest, depending on a person’s age or health conditions. For example, the CDC estimates that the risk of death is more than 600 times higher for someone 85 years and older as compared with someone between the ages of 18 and 29.

Link to this

How do we know vaccines are safe? How do we know vaccines are safe?

No vaccine or medical product is 100% safe, but large randomized controlled trials, involving tens of thousands of people and reviewed by multiple groups of experts, revealed no serious safety concerns and showed that the benefits outweigh the risks. 

As with any vaccine, safety is also being monitored as the shots are rolled out to members of the public to ensure there are no side effects of concern. A very small number of severe allergic reactions, for example — which are expected with any vaccine — have occurred with some of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines. The CDC said the reaction – anaphylaxis – occurred in 2 to 5 people per million vaccinated. This reaction “almost always occurs” within a half hour of receiving a shot, and vaccination providers have medicine to immediately treat it, the CDC said.

Also, after investigating 15 cases of a rare clotting condition out of nearly 8 million Johnson & Johnson vaccinations, the CDC and Food and Drug Administration are warning of a suggested increased risk of the conditions, which occurred in women and resulted in three deaths as of April 21. The CDC said “women younger than 50 years old especially should be aware of the rare risk of blood clots with low platelets after vaccination, and that other COVID-19 vaccines are available where this risk has not been seen.” For more, see “Q&A on the Rare Clotting Events That Caused the J&J Pause.”

For the COVID-19 vaccines, the CDC and FDA vaccine monitoring systems include a new smartphone-based tool called v-safe that allows enrollees to report any reactions to the vaccine.

Link to this

Full Story

Some politicians and pundits have downplayed the severity of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. One such example has sprung up again, this time with an additional message aimed at spreading fear about the vaccines.

An Instagram account promoting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as former President Donald Trump’s running mate in 2024, if Trump seeks office again, has shared a photo of DeSantis from September. In it, the governor is holding a sign that shows “COVID-19 Survival Rates” by age group, which range from 99.997% for those under 20 to 94.6% for those over 70.

The new version altered the original image by adding text that says, “Do you really need that dangerous vaccine?” But that message isn’t from DeSantis, who has been vaccinated and has encouraged others to get vaccinated.

Both of those messages, though — highlighting the survival rates and questioning the safety of the vaccines — are misleading.

Misleading Comparison Minimizes Risk

We’ll start with the original claim about the high survival rates for COVID-19.

DeSantis used the sign at a September press conference during which he announced that he would lift restrictions meant to curb the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

The sign read:

COVID-19 Survival Rates by Age Group

0-19: 99.997%
20-49: 99.98%
50-69: 99.5%
70+: 94.6%

Small print at the bottom of the sign attributed the numbers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the CDC didn’t publish those numbers, Jasmine Reed, an agency spokeswoman, told us in an email.

Instead, the Florida Department of Health used the CDC’s estimated “infection fatality ratio” for those age groups from a Sept. 10 report called “COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios” to calculate “survival rates.”

It’s not wrong to figure out the survival rate that way, Dr. Julien Riou, a research fellow at the University of Bern in Switzerland, told us in an email. But in this case, the numbers are misleading.

Riou, who worked on the paper that the CDC cited for the estimated infection fatality rates, noted that the survival rate listed for those over 70 doesn’t reflect what the paper found. The survival rate for those between ages 70 and 79 would be about 95%, as the sign says, but the rate for those over 80 would be lower, about 70% to 80%, he said. That distinction wasn’t included in the CDC’s report either, though.

More importantly, focusing on the high survival rates minimizes the deadly toll that COVID-19 has already taken.

The fact is, more than 577,000 people nationwide have died of the disease, and COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2020.

That’s “unbelievable,” Dr. Sten Vermund, dean of the Yale School of Public Health, told us in a phone interview. “Here’s something that came out of the blue and ranked behind cancer and heart disease.”

While it’s true that the estimated infection fatality rates for COVID-19 are under 1% for most age groups, the disease is widespread, he said. So the actual impact — the total number of deaths — is significant. More than 3 million people worldwide have died of the disease.

“One percent of a few people is small, but 1% of a lot of people is large,” Vermund said. “That’s what we have here.”

Highlighting strong survival rates, as this meme does, gives people false confidence, he said. It also doesn’t account for cases of long COVID-19, which can cause symptoms to last for months and have severe impacts on patients’ lives.

The bottom line is that both things are true: The percentage of those who die from COVID-19 may appear low, but the raw number of those who have died is high, Vermund said. Focusing only on the relatively low percentage of deaths minimizes the issue.

Safety of COVID-19 Vaccines

We’ll now address the newer claim suggesting that the vaccines are unsafe.

As we’ve explained before, clinical trials found no serious safety concerns for the COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S., and more than 246 million doses have been administered so far.

That said, there have been some rare but serious reactions to the vaccines.

A relatively small number of people had serious allergic reactions after getting the three vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. As we’ve written before, some allergic reactions, including a potentially life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis, are to be expected with any vaccine. Fortunately, that kind of severe reaction is very rare — about 2 to 5 per million — and “almost always occurs within 30 minutes after vaccination,” the CDC says, so it can be quickly treated.

In April, regulatory agencies recommended a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while they investigated reports of a rare but potentially fatal blood-clotting condition among women under 50 years old. The investigation confirmed 15 cases of the rare condition, including three deaths, out of nearly 8 million vaccine doses of the J&J vaccine, as of April 21. The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration recommended resuming use of the shot with a warning of the rare, increased risk, explaining that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks, and that the risk hasn’t been seen with the other authorized vaccines.

The obvious benefit of all these vaccines is that they reduce the rates of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. A recent government analysis in the U.K. estimated that vaccines there had prevented 10,400 deaths for those over 60 years old from December through March. During that time, more than 15 million vaccines were administered.

That works out to 693 deaths prevented per 1 million vaccine doses in the most vulnerable age group.

“We’ve seen the risks of COVID-19 — in individual health and public health,” Jason Schwartz, assistant professor of health policy at the Yale School of Public Health, told us in a phone interview. The risks of the disease, as we described above, are visible and significant. “That’s how we have to think about the risks of the vaccines,” he said, in terms of what they prevent.

“We know that the vaccines currently in use have been tremendously effective in preventing hospitalizations and death,” Schwartz said. “They all but eliminate the outcomes of COVID-19 that have been so catastrophic.”

The most common consequence of the vaccines are sore arms and short-term symptoms, with some very rare cases of allergic reaction or blood clots, he said, comparing that to the prevention of hospitalizations and death from COVID-19 made possible by the vaccines. It’s “literally a different level of magnitude,” Schwartz said.

(See SciCheck’s articles on each of the vaccines: “A Guide to Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine,” “A Guide to Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 Vaccine” and “A Guide to Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 Vaccine.“)

Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over our editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.


Rieder, Rem. “Trump’s Deceptive Comparison of the Coronavirus to the Flu.” FactCheck.org. 9 Sep 2020.

Gambardello, Joseph A. “Doctors in Video Falsely Equate COVID-19 With a ‘Normal Flu Virus’.” FactCheck.org. 21 Oct 2020.

Solomon, Josh and Ana Ceballos. “DeSantis lifts statewide restrictions on bars and restaurants as Florida moves to phase 3.” Tampa Bay Times. 25 Sep 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios.” Updated 10 Sep 2020.

Hauser, Anthony, et al. “Estimation of SARS-CoV-2 mortality during the early stages of an epidemic: A modeling study in Hubei, China, and six regions in Europe.” PLOS medicine. 28 Jul 2020.

Riou, Julien. Research fellow, University of Bern. Email exchange with FactCheck.org. 26 Apr 2021.

Reed, Jasmine. Spokeswoman, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Email exchange with FactCheck.org. 26 Apr 2021.

Mahon, Jason. Spokesman, Florida Department of Health. Email exchange with FactCheck.org. 23 Apr 2021.

Vermund, Sten. Dean, Yale School of Public Health. Telephone interview with FactCheck.org. 26 Apr 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (@CDCgov). “A new @CDCMMWR shows that in 2020, more than 3.3 million deaths occurred in the United States, an 18% increase from 2019. #COVID19 ranked as the 3rd leading cause of death, following heart disease and cancer.” Twitter. 31 Mar 2021.

World Health Organization. Estimating mortality from COVID-19. 4 Aug 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Post-COVID Conditions. 8 Apr 2021.

Kiely, Eugene and Catalina Jaramillo. “The Facts on the Recommended J&J Vaccine ‘Pause’.” FactCheck.org. 13 Apr 2021.

Robertson, Lori and Eugene Kiely. “Q&A on the Rare Clotting Events That Caused the J&J Pause.” FactCheck.org. Updated 30 Apr 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Recommends Use of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine Resume. 30 Apr 2021.

Public Health England. Impact of COVID-19 vaccines on mortality in England — December 2020 to March 2021. Mar 2021.

Schwartz, Jason. Assistant professor of health policy, Yale School of Public Health. Telephone interview with FactCheck.org. 5 May 2021.

The post Meme Featuring DeSantis Presents Misleading Picture of COVID-19 and Vaccine Safety appeared first on FactCheck.org.

Location, location, location: Picking a spot for Biden-Putin summit is a tricky task

Politico -

Vienna? Maybe. Reykjavik? Not impossible. Helsinki? Umm...

As President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin prepare for a potential face-to-face meeting, their aides are trying to nail down the best location for what could prove a tense affair. They already have offers from several other countries eager to host. But they’re finding that — for reasons ranging from recent wars to the jaw-dropping performance of a certain former U.S. president — there are few ideal options.

“A lot of preparation goes into a meeting like this, and it’s also very choreographed,” said Julia Friedlander, a former White House National Security Council official. “If the goal of the Biden administration is to make sure that Russia understands the fundamental U.S. disapproval of its behavior, the organizers will be thinking of how history will view every aspect, including the venue.”

Hosting the summit brings bragging rights and the country selected becomes the center of international attention for at least 24 hours.

On Tuesday, Biden said that it is his “hope and expectation” to meet Putin when he travels to Europe in mid-June for meetings with the leaders of NATO, the G-7 and the European Union. Putin won’t be attending those events, but former U.S. officials and analysts say it makes sense for Biden to meet the Russian president somewhere nearby while he is in the neighborhood.

A White House spokesperson on Wednesday declined to go beyond Biden’s comments. An official with the Russian Embassy in Washington pointed to comments late last month from a Kremlin spokesperson, who noted that Russia had yet to formally agree to meet.

Already, some European governments have offered up their premier cities as potential venues, according to media reports. They include a trio of countries accustomed to hosting such gatherings: Switzerland, Finland and Austria. These three are considered, in broad terms, “neutral” venues: none of them are in the NATO military alliance, whose growth Putin has long seen as a threat to Russia and its sphere of influence.

Former U.S. officials and analysts say a dark horse candidate shouldn’t be ruled out. Among the possibilities: Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital; Prague, capital of the Czech Republic; Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia; and maybe, just maybe, the Azerbaijani capital, Baku.

Of the first three choices, Helsinki is probably least likely to be selected given what happened when then-President Donald Trump met Putin in the Finnish capital in 2018.

During that gathering, Trump lived up to his reputation as being too eager to please Putin when he appeared to accept Putin’s denials that Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. Trump tried to walk back his comments later, but the blowback was huge and bipartisan.

Going to Helsinki could, arguably, give Biden an opportunity to right a Trump wrong. But, some former U.S. officials and analysts said the comparison with Trump would drive every narrative and overshadow the substance of what Biden and Putin hope to accomplish if they meet.

From the war in Ukraine to how to tackle climate change, the pair have a great deal to discuss. The U.S.-Russian relationship is not in a good place, and Moscow and Washington have taken a number of retaliatory measures against each other in recent months.

The White House has imposed a sanctions package on Russian officials and expelled several Russian diplomats; the Kremlin has responded with the expulsion of American diplomats and severely restricted whom the U.S. Embassy in Moscow can hire. Biden also recently agreed that Putin was a “killer”; Putin responded by ominously wishing Biden “good health.”

Still, Biden proposed the summit during a call with Putin last month, a nod to his belief that it’s best to maintain solid contact with a world power like Russia at a time when so many transnational threats require cooperation. Those threats include the coronavirus pandemic, whose prevalence in a potential host country is also likely to factor into the summit’s location.

Some U.S. officials and outside analysts say Iceland could be a potential venue. Iceland may be slightly trickier to reach than some of the other countries. There's also the issue of it being a longtime NATO member. Plus, there is currently an active volcano spewing lava in an area visible from Reykjavik.

But it would not be Iceland’s first time hosting such an event. Reykjavik was the scene of a famous 1986 meeting between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan. The men came close to reaching a major nuclear arms-control deal, and it was later seen as a key moment in the final years of the Cold War.

Baku would also be something of a trek, especially for the U.S. side. But while Azerbaijan has solid relations with both Washington and Moscow, and it would be an out-of-the-box choice, the odds are low that Biden would go there. One reason: last year’s brief war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

A Biden visit to Baku would likely offend Armenia, as well as many Armenian-Americans. Biden recently pleased many in that community by formally recognizing the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century.

In 2001, Slovenia hosted a summit between then-President George W. Bush and Putin, still a relatively new leader in Russia at the time. (The pair met multiple times, including in Slovakia.) In 2017, Slovenia offered to host Putin and Trump — noting that Trump’s wife, Melania, was born in Slovenia.

If it’s willing, the country may have a shot this time, but there’s a caveat: Slovenia joined NATO in 2004, and that may lower it on the Russians’ list. Still, Putin didn’t seem to mind that in 2017, when he welcomed the Slovenians’ offer to host him and Trump.

A U.S. official familiar with Russian issues said Putin doesn’t worry as much as the United States and the Europeans about where he will or won’t go. “He’s a drama queen and loves watching NATO and European Union countries fret about him visiting their territory,” the official said.

The Russian strongman showed up and danced in an Austrian vineyard during the 2018 wedding of that country’s then-foreign minister. The invitation to Putin, though described as a private matter, led some to question Austria’s loyalty to the European Union, which had condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Others who watch Russia closely said it’s more complicated than saying Putin will go anywhere. One Washington-based Russia analyst said it could come down to Putin’s history with each particular country, not simply whether or not it’s a NATO member.

Prague was the scene of a 2010 summit between then-President Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president at the time (who nonetheless operated in Putin’s shadow). Obama and Medvedev signed the New START arms control treaty during that gathering.

In mid-April, a Czech Republic official was reported to have offered to host Putin and Biden. But that invitation may no longer be in effect because relations between Prague and Moscow have since taken a nosedive.

The Czech Republic has expelled dozens of Russian diplomats after determining that new evidence showed Russia was behind an explosion at a Czech ammunition depot in 2014 that killed at least two people.

Russia has taken retaliatory measures, including reportedly placing the Czech Republic on a list of “unfriendly countries.” According to various Russian media accounts, the list includes the United States and several of Russia’s neighbors, such as Latvia and Estonia.

Daniel Fried, a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer whose many postings included being the ambassador to Poland, said Russian actions, from land invasions to cyberattacks, seem to be costing the country diplomatic space to maneuver — or to meet.

“They keep attacking people and pissing them off,” Fried said. “I’d rather have our problems than Putin’s.”

Cheney doubles down in op-ed, says Republicans are at a 'turning point'

Politico -

Facing removal from party leadership, Rep. Liz Cheney doubled down on Wednesday, saying in a Washington Post op-ed that the GOP is at a "turning point" and calling on Republicans to turn away from former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, which she argued "can provoke violence again."

"The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution," the Wyoming Republican wrote in the op-ed. “History is watching. Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process.”

In the op-ed, Cheney made no direct mention of the push in recent days to remove her from her position as House GOP conference chair. Cheney has drawn the ire of many Republicans for continuing to criticize Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud and to defend her vote to certify the 2020 election results.

Facing an uphill battle to stay in leadership, Cheney has not fought to keep her job. A formal vote is expected as early as next Wednesday, with House Republican leaders whipping against Cheney and Trump backing Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) to replace her.

Cheney‘s current posture is in stark contrast to her stance earlier this year amid an ultimately failed push to remove her from leadership, when she actively whipped to stay in leadership. Cheney prevailed in February in a 145-61 secret ballot vote, but she faces longer odds this time.

In the op-ed, Cheney slammed Trump and said she would continue to do so “no matter what the short-term political consequences might be.”

“We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process,” Cheney wrote.

Cheney has also gotten blowback from the Wyoming GOP, which censured her after she voted to impeach Trump. Republicans bucking Trump have often been held to the fire, with Trump still enjoying broad support among GOP voters — 80 percent of Republicans said they viewed him favorably in a recent POLITICO and Morning Consult poll.

In the op-ed, she also called for Republicans to support the Justice Department’s investigations into the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol and renewed her calls for a bipartisan, 9/11-style fact-finding commission with subpoena power and no current members of Congress participating.

She also called on the party to move away from the "dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”

President Ronald Reagan, she wrote, "formed a broad coalition from across the political spectrum to return America to sanity, and we need to do the same now. We know how. But this will not happen if Republicans choose to abandon the rule of law and join Trump’s crusade to undermine the foundation of our democracy and reverse the legal outcome of the last election."

In the op-ed, Cheney called for Republicans to back “genuinely conservative principles,” arguing for "low taxes,“ fiscal conservatism and small government.

“There is much at stake now,“ she wrote, “including the ridiculous wokeness of our political rivals, the irrational policies at the border and runaway spending that threatens a return to the catastrophic inflation of the 1970s.”

‘Cult of personality’: House Democrats seize on Cheney chaos

Politico -

Donald Trump is back in control of the House GOP inner circle, and Democrats can hardly believe their luck.

Republicans are days away from dethroning Rep. Liz Cheney as their No. 3 leader after her repeated broadsides against the former president. And in doing so, Democrats believe the GOP is handing over the ingredients for a political litmus test that could energize their push to beat the historical odds and hang onto their narrow House majority next fall. The Cheney ouster opens the door to tarring the GOP, once again, as the party of Trump.

That's because the turmoil over Cheney's future has elevated Trump’s voice in the party to a degree last seen before his encouragement of baseless election fraud claims turned to violence on Jan. 6, getting the former president impeached a second time. Trump's emergence this week, cheering the Cheney leadership purge and supporting likely successor Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), has handed Democrats an unexpected gift ahead of the 2022 election.

Even as they brace for a potentially perilous midterm battle, Democrats are back on the offense, and the faster Republicans line up behind Trump, the harder Democrats plan to hit them.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said the “first question in every race in the country” should be whether GOP candidates believed the “big lie” that the election was stolen. Cheney’s potential ouster will “link them more to the big lie,” Khanna added of House Republicans. “It’s not about Trump. It’s about, Do you believe in truth?”

For many Democrats, Cheney’s eviction also marks a grim development for Congress as an institution. Without her in House GOP leadership, all of its members will have voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s victory on Jan. 6 — a vote that took place hours after the armed insurrection, imbuing one roll call with political symbolism beyond a lawmaker's position on election results.

“Liz Cheney is being attacked for being a woman of integrity and telling the truth,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) said in an interview. “What the Republican leadership is doing is destabilizing people’s trust in government.”

The GOP’s escalating push to silence the Wyoming Republican, specifically over her criticism of Trump and his unfounded claims about the election, has also given new ammunition to the Democrats who are ready to make him a bogeyman again for the midterms. Trump may not be on the ballot, but his relatively low popularity outside the GOP base allows Democrats to warn voters what could happen if Republicans do take back control of Congress next year.

"I think it's a real weakness in the Republican Party that they have jettisoned their principles, jettisoned adherence to the truth and simply pandered to one individual — Donald Trump,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said during a Washington Post event on Wednesday.

“It’s a question of ‘cult of personality’ that if you're not 1,000 percent for Donald Trump somehow, you're not a good Republican,” Hoyer said.

Hoyer isn’t the only top Democrat to seize on the GOP’s chaotic leadership scramble. A day earlier, Pelosi’s office sent reporters a press release written as a mock job posting for a “non-threatening female” to lead the GOP conference. Pelosi herself said at a Tuesday event in San Francisco she wished Cheney well but did not want to get involved in the dispute.

“I do commend Liz Cheney for her courage, for her patriotism, and I wish her well. Perhaps this challenge will make her stronger. I don’t know, that’s up to their caucus,” she said. “I don’t welcome their participation in our caucus, and I’m sure they don’t welcome my participation in theirs.”

Cheney herself argued in a Washington Post op-ed on Wednesday that "embracing or ignoring Trump’s statements might seem attractive to some for fundraising and political purposes" but warned that it would do "profound long-term damage" to the GOP and the country.

It’s not clear how much Democrats will lean into their anti-Trump playbook going into next fall. Their party is defending a handful of battleground seats in districts that the former president won in 2020, and many more where the ex-president remains popular.

Villainizing Trump in 2022 could pose similar risks to Democrats as it did last year. The former president’s presence on the ballot in 2020 energized voters both sides of the aisle, though many swing-district Democratic candidates ultimately lost their bids, stunned by higher-than-expected GOP turnout.

Still, the forthcoming shakeup in GOP leadership has already shaken up the contentious midterm landscape. While Democrats have been privately downtrodden about their prospects of hanging onto a handful of battleground seats in a year of congressional redistricting, Republicans have been practically measuring the drapes.

Democrats hope that the drama consuming their opponents across the aisle, and what it means for the GOP's future, could tilt the scale a bit toward them — at least for now.

"Liz Cheney is a staunch conservative, but she is being ousted from Republican leadership because she is not an enthusiastic adherent of the 'Big Lie,'" Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who leads the House Democrats' campaign arm, said in a statement to POLITICO.

"It seems like the only way to get ahead over there is to be a dangerous liar, accused sexual predator, or perpetrator of white supremacist ideology," Maloney said, referencing scandals that have affected a few GOP members.

The rebellion over Cheney could also carry implications for the Democrats’ legislative agenda. The Wyoming Republican, whose family is a bastion of conservatism, was hardly a bipartisan deal-maker.

But Cheney was one of the few Republicans who has remained in good standing within the Democratic caucus since Jan. 6, and the GOP’s efforts to punish her have already begun to inflame tensions lingering between the two parties since the deadly insurrection.

“We need a two-party system. It’s not healthy to have a one-party system," Biden said Tuesday. "And I think the Republicans are further away from trying to figure out who they are and what they stand for then I thought they would be at this point."

“Part of me is like, disarray in the Republican Conference is fine. That's good for everybody. That's good for Democrats," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who was one of the last lawmakers to leave the House chamber as rioters forcefully attempted to enter on Jan. 6.

"But watching this unfold, I can't help but think this is bad for the country. And it's bad for democracy... it’s bad for solving future problems in a bipartisan way.”

Yang falls behind Adams for first time in New York mayor’s race poll

Politico -

NEW YORK — Eric Adams is leading the field of mayoral candidates in a new poll, marking the first time Andrew Yang is not the top contender since he shook up the race with his unexpected entry in mid-January.

Adams, the Brooklyn Borough president, was the first-place pick for 21 percent of the respondents in a three-day survey conducted by Washington, D.C.-based firm GQR, according to a copy of the survey obtained by POLITICO. Yang followed at 18 percent, and City Comptroller Scott Stringer had 15 percent support.

The poll of 500 likely Democratic primary voters was conducted over the course of three days last week, during which Stringer’s campaign was rocked by a 20-year-old accusation of sexual assault.

No other candidate cracked double digits, and 11 percent of those polled reported being undecided ahead of the June 22 primary to replace outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Until now, Adams has generally ranked second to Yang, though a poll conducted by charter school organization Students First recently found him inching closer to the first-time mayoral candidate who has received the most media coverage — albeit much of it critical.

But Adams, who has yet to spend any of his $7.9 million campaign war chest on TV ads, typically gets the second-highest amount of media attention, according to someone involved in the race who tracks that metric.

A former police officer who speaks openly about being assaulted by police officers when he was a teenager, Adams has been almost singularly focused on the rise in gun violence across the city. Where Yang is looking to capture the mood of an electorate anxious for New York to rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic, Adams is positioning himself as the candidate vowing to tackle a steady spike in crime.

Adams dominated with Black voters, garnering 47 percent of their support, compared to 11 percent of whites and 8 percent of Hispanics polled. Yang, by comparison, polled best with Hispanics — 22 percent — compared to 17 percent of white voters and 12 percent of Black voters.

Stringer did best of the eight candidates polled among white voters, seizing 24 percent, even as his campaign became embroiled in responding to an allegation that he groped a campaign volunteer in 2001. Though he denied the accusation, many of his left-leaning supporters quickly abandoned his bid. He has said he has no intention of abandoning his mayoral run.

“Every other poll has us in first place, but we’ve always said this would be a close race,” Yang co-campaign manager Chris Coffey said. “The only poll that really matters is the one on June 22 and we expect to win that one.”

Evan Thies, spokesperson for Adams, said the poll “shows what we have seen on the ground for months — that New Yorkers want Eric to be the next mayor because they share his vision for a safer, fairer city where prosperity is shared by all.”

The results are disappointing for the two candidates who have spent the most on TV ads — Shaun Donovan and Ray McGuire — who are at 8 percent and 6 percent, respectively. Between their own campaigns and multimillion-dollar expenditures on their behalf, each has been on air consistently in recent months, advertising their life stories and policy chops.

"It's clear this race is wide open and will break late, and this poll is yet another that speaks to exactly that dynamic," said senior Donovan adviser, Rick Fromberg. "It's also important to remember that the candidate who was in Shaun Donovan's position at this stage of the race in 2013 is the current mayor."

Of those polled, 55 percent identified themselves as liberal, 27 percent as moderate and 14 percent as conservative. Both Adams and Yang are running on relatively moderate messages, and both have been identified as concerns for a political action committee fundraising to elect a progressive mayor.

Forty percent of those polled were white; 30 percent Black; 19 percent Hispanic; and 7 percent Asian.

Moderna booster shots effective against Covid variants in early study

Politico -

A single dose of Moderna’s original Covid-19 vaccine and a booster shot that targets key virus variants both show promising signals that they can protect previously vaccinated people against problematic strains, the company announced Wednesday.

The results from a preliminary study are an early sign that booster shots could play a role in future vaccination efforts — in this case, against the variants B.1.351, a strain first found in South Africa, and P.1, first found in Brazil, which are less susceptible to existing vaccines.

Moderna began a trial in March dosing vaccinate volunteers with a booster shot of its original formula or a modified vaccine aimed at B.1.351. The company and the National Institutes of Health also assessed the shots against P.1, a similar strain.

The study found that a booster dose of the variant-targeting formula was more effective than a booster of the original vaccine, but both raised antibody levels, Moderna said in a press release. The research is not yet peer-reviewed.

The boosters also appeared as safe as earlier shots, with volunteers reporting side effects similar to a second dose of the original Moderna vaccine.

There are several potential coronavirus boosters in lab and human studies as governments and pharmaceutical companies brace for possibly fading immunity in the face of spreading variants.

“As we seek to defeat the ongoing pandemic, we remain committed to being proactive as the virus evolves,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement. “We are encouraged by these new data, which reinforce our confidence that our booster strategy should be protective against these newly detected variants.”

Trumpland thought he’d get back on Facebook. Now, they’re anxious and scrambling.

Politico -

Republicans on Wednesday expressed outrage over news that Donald Trump’s Facebook suspension would remain in place for the time being. Privately, many of them, including some close to the former president, were panicked.

The ruling by the Facebook oversight board meant that Trump would remain off the platform for the foreseeable future and, perhaps, well beyond should the company make the ban permanent. In practical terms, the main driver of Republican Party enthusiasm would be less omnipresent in voters’ lives — a reality that sparked fear for some GOP operatives. As for Trump, he would remain without one of the great money-raising spigots in all of politics as his political operation geared up for a possible 2024 run.

“This is a huge decision, makes it infinitely harder for him to raise money,” conceded a person close to the Trump operation. “Facebook was the main way he raised money. He’s now going to have to spend far more in the future to find other ways to raise money … It was the main way he found donors.”

Trump’s official line in response to the ruling showed no concern over the financial ramifications of it, though some anxiety about how it could impact his ability to communicate with his hordes of followers. He accused Facebook, Twitter, and Google of taking away his free speech, called them “corrupt” and demanded that they “pay a political price.”

But it was clear that money matters were on his team’s mind. Shortly after the official statement was released, the Trump operation blasted out a text message to its list calling the Facebook ban “NONSENSE” but also asking for money. “I want a list of all donors sent to my office,” the text read.

Not everyone in the party felt that Trump would end up in a worse place because of the continued Facebook ban. The president still has one of the biggest email lists in politics even if it will atrophy without access to the country’s largest social media platforms. And in the tech industry, he has a bête noire to rail against. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said the Facebook decision would ultimately help Trump by making him a tech “martyr.”

“Do you want a communist Chinese style control over your voice or American style openness? We’ll see whether Biden sides with the Chinese communists or with the American people,” Gingrich said.

Elsewhere, Republicans argued that keeping Trump off Facebook would be good for the party, even if (or perhaps because) it would be “devastating” for Trump.

“It makes it more difficult for him and it gives everyone from Tim Scott to Nikki Haley to Mike Pompeo to Ted Cruz the ability to go out and begin to win over the Trump donors and voters that exist in a vacuum that Trump is not filling,” said one top GOP operative.

Already, GOP groups like the National Republican Senatorial Committee are running Facebook ads keying off Trump’s battle with “Big Tech” — a sign the party sees the flap as a strong opportunity to engage supporters and that Trump’s visage remains one of the best ways to draw in donors on Facebook.

But Trump himself can’t tap that universe, at least for the time being. And other Republicans feared that MAGA fanatics would become less engaged politically as Trump grew more remote in their lives. “Fundraising begets fundraising so him raising money helps,” said a separate top GOP operative who is working on congressional races this cycle.

Trump’s suspension from Facebook came after the Capitol riot in early January. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the president would be indefinitely off the platform because he’d used it to “incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government.” But the social media giant also referred its decision to the company’s independent oversight board for a review and allowed for Trump to make his case against a ban.

A statement submitted on Trump’s behalf by the American Center for Law and Justice claimed Trump called for supporters to be “peaceful and law abiding” and went on to say there was a “total absence of any serious linkage between the Trump speech and the Capitol building incursion.”

A content director for the board said the argument from Trump’s team was “replete with falsehoods." And after the announcement of the oversight board’s decision to punt back to Facebook, a spokesperson for the social media platform said the company stood by the decision to keep Trump accounts offline.

In the absence of Facebook and Twitter, Trump has continued to share his opinions on everything from the Academy Awards to Republican politics on friendly news show interviews and in statements dictated to aides and distributed to the public via email. On Tuesday, he launched a blog on his own website. But aides acknowledge he no longer has the same reach.

Alternative social platforms have been discussed by aides, but so far none have been backed by Trump or shared publicly. Trump’s team had anticipated Facebook would let him back on the site, and a person close to Trump said the company’s decision would only mean a “more aggressive timeline” for the development of a new social media platform.

“The model [for fundraising] that has been used to date has been a Facebook-related model, but Trump has one of the largest databases of emails and phone numbers of any political operation in modern times and so it’s a matter of deploying that in a different way,” the person said. “So while it would be a short term disadvantage it would be a long term advantage.”

With over 32 million followers, Trump had the third-largest political following on Facebook behind former president Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His page was one of the most powerful platforms on the internet. In the final months of last year’s election, the Donald Trump Facebook page dwarfed not just Joe Biden’s page but the pages of many media outlets in total interactions by about a factor of ten.

Trump used his oversize presence on Facebook to not only amplify his message but to tap into a vast network of grassroots, small dollar donors. Advertising on Facebook was a major focus of his 2020 campaign effort, with nearly $140 million spent on the platform.

For Democrats, Facebook was more than a nuisance in 2020; it was a problem — not because of Trump’s ability to tap donors through it but because of the pervasiveness with which disinformation spread on it. The Biden campaign openly clashed with Facebook last fall. Campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon wrote in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in September, calling the social network “the nation’s foremost propagator of disinformation about the voting process.” She added that: "Facebook’s continued promise of future action is serving as nothing more than an excuse for inaction."

Biden aides felt at liberty to publicly chide the company at will. So too did the boss. “I’ve never been a fan of Facebook, as you probably know. I’ve never been a big Zuckerberg fan. I think he’s a real problem,” Biden told The New York Times editorial board in 2019.

The oversight board’s decision on Tuesday didn’t spark praise among Democrats, who continued to argue that the company itself should have acted far sooner and more decisively. But they did view it as a potentially major development in the political landscape.

"Trump used Facebook to organize his supporters and fundraise, and Twitter to talk to media,” said Nu Wexler, a former Facebook staffer and Democratic operative. “Getting locked out of Facebook ads is a bigger punishment than any restrictions on his political speech."

For conservatives eager to make tech a bogeyman in upcoming elections, Trump’s suspension from Facebook and permanent ban from Twitter has only escalated their threats — ranging from lawsuits by conservative organizations to antitrust enforcement by Congress.

Trump, too, has argued for going after major tech companies by removing forms of legal shields that they enjoy for the content posted on them. Whether he will be in a position of power to affect that policy is less clear. He has not made any announcements about a run in 2024, and his indecision has held other presidential hopefuls hostage as they try to build out early operations. But Facebook’s decision may have already handicapped Trump’s future plans.

“It's a huge blow to his fundraising and ability to communicate with the masses,” said Mike Nellis, a Democratic digital strategist who was a senior adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign. It’s “going to make it very difficult to make a comeback.”

Alex Isenstadt and Alex Thompson contributed to this report.

Fauci: The U.S. has a 'moral obligation' to help with global pandemic response

Politico -

President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci said Wednesday that the U.S. has a “moral obligation” to share coronavirus vaccines and supplies worldwide and end the pandemic.

The federal government's longtime infectious disease official told POLITICO that he backs waiving pharmaceutical giants’ vaccine patents so that other countries can produce generic versions of the shots — but doing so would not be a quick fix for the current crisis, including surging cases and deaths in India.

The prospect of abandoning vaccine patents to allow broad global production has pitted public health advocates against industry and some Biden administration officials who argue that the move could undercut vaccine makers and stress supply chains.

“I am certainly not against anything that can get doses of vaccine quickly into the arms of people in the developing world,” he told POLITICO. “I feel very strongly that we have a moral obligation as a rich nation, to really put our forces in our resources into helping those who would otherwise die because they happen to be in a country that they were born in.”

U.S. World Trade Organization Ambassador Katherine Tai on Wednesday said that the government backs the proposal but needs to hammer out details during an ongoing WTO meeting.

Progressive Democrats and global officials, including the World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, insist that waiving vaccine patents is essential for making shots a public good and vaccinating the world. But that is the first step towards global production: It takes months, if not years, for manufacturers to set up production for specific vaccines.

“If you wait for that to happen, a lot of people are going to die,” Fauci said, arguing that patent waivers can come alongside immediate assistance from manufacturers and high-income countries. Biden pledged this week to donate 10 percent of U.S. supply to nations in need, but the administration has not laid out how it will prioritize populations for assistance.

“What I would like to see, but I don't have control [over], is much sooner rather than later to actually get doses over there,” Fauci said.

Fauci’s comments come amid ongoing tensions inside the Biden administration on whether the U.S. should be sending doses to the rest of the world when a large portion of American adults still have not received the shot — though not for lack of supply.

The Biden administration has committed to sending essential Covid-19 assistance, such as raw materials and components for vaccines, therapeutics and personal protective equipment to India. It has also pledged to send 60 million AstraZeneca doses overseas, though the State Department is still working on a system for evaluating multiple different bids from countries across the globe. President Biden recently told reporters he intends to send at least some of the vaccine to India.

Still, the U.S. trails well behind competing nations like China and Russia in the vaccine diplomacy race, inviting criticism from global health groups that contend the administration has not moved fast enough to help combat the pandemic overseas.

And despite Biden's vow earlier this week to make the U.S. an "arsenal for fighting Covid-19" worldwide, his administration has yet to settle on how quickly to distribute doses and which countries to prioritize.

Fauci alluded to that debate during the interview, chalking it up to differences among officials about how large the U.S. stockpile must be before the U.S. can give away portions without endangering the response at home. The administration will begin sending more doses to countries in need when the U.S. “interrupts the train of transmission,” he said.

Still, he stressed the need for the U.S. to assert itself in the coming months as a major contributor to the global Covid effort.

“Having been through a horrible situation, with close to 600,000 people in this country having died, we want to feel really comfortable that we have absolutely interrupted the chain of transmission before we do anything else,” Fauci said. “You can ramp up production, by investing resources into the companies that are already doing it. And you can do it in a way to say ramp it up, but it's going to be for the developing world in addition to us.”

Biden team says it supports waiving patent protections on Covid-19 vaccines

Politico -

The United States said on Wednesday that it backs waiving valuable patent and other intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines to help expand production of the life-saving shots worldwide.

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a statement announcing the move.

The decision is a partial victory for progressive Democrats who have pushed President Joe Biden to endorse India and South Africa's call for a broad waiver of all intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.

The U.S. will have to engage in detailed negotiations on the scope of the waiver at the World Trade Organization, whose 164 members have to unanimously agree to such a change. But the shift in the U.S.' position will likely be seen as a major step to aiding global efforts to fight the pandemic.

“The administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines," Tai said.

Tai's statement mentioned waiving only intellectual property protections for vaccines — one early sign that any waiver approved by the WTO could be narrower than what India and South Africa proposed eight months ago.

Pharmaceutical companies including Moderna and Pfizer have strongly opposed such a move, saying it would undermine incentives to develop drugs to fight future pandemics and other diseases. They also argue the main impediments to the rapid expansion of vaccine production are logistical, including various export barriers that countries have imposed.

Shortly before the announcement, Biden’s chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci said in an interview that the U.S. has a “moral obligation” to share coronavirus vaccines and supplies worldwide to end the pandemic.

Fauci, the federal government's longtime infectious disease official told POLITICO that he backs waiving pharmaceutical giants’ vaccine patents so that other countries can produce generic versions of the shots. But he cautioned that doing so would not be a quick fix for the current crisis, including surging cases and deaths in India.

Tai said that the administration will participate in global negotiations on the language to implement the waiver. "Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved," she added.

Until now, the United States and the European Union have opposed even beginning talks on details of how the waiver would work, or how long it would last.

But earlier on Wednesday, World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said it was time for countries to sit down and thrash out the issue. Her comments came during the first of two days of a WTO General Council meeting, the organization's main decision-making body.

“I am firmly convinced that once we can sit down with an actual text in front of us, we shall find a pragmatic way forward, acceptable to all sides that allow the kinds of answers that our developing country members are looking at with respect to vaccines, whilst at the same time looking at research and innovation and how to protect them,” she said.

Tai said the Biden administration’s aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible.

"As our vaccine supply for the American people is secured, the administration will continue to ramp up its efforts — working with the private sector and all possible partners — to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution. It will also work to increase the raw materials needed to produce those vaccines," she said.

Sarah Owermohle, Erin Banco and Adam Cancryn contributed to this report.


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