Politico

Two of Newsom's children test positive for Covid-19


OAKLAND — Two of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s children have tested positive for Covid-19, though the governor has not, his office said Friday.

The children, who were not named to protect their privacy, have mild symptoms and will be quarantined.

"The governor's children tested positive for COVID-19," Newsom spokesperson Erin Mellon said in a statement Friday night. "The governor, the first partner, and the other two children have since tested negative. The family is following all COVID protocols. The Newsoms continue to support masking for unvaccinated individuals indoors to stop the spread and advocate for vaccinations as the most effective way to end this pandemic."

The Newsoms' four children, who attend private schools, are under 12 and not yet eligible to be vaccinated, according to CDC guidelines. The governor's office said it does not appear that the children were exposed at school or at any campaign events. They tested positive Thursday.

The governor in April received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which calls for one shot. He has not received a booster shot.

This isn't the first time the Democratic governor and his family have been directly affected by Covid-19. The family entered a 14-day isolation period last November after his children were exposed to a coronavirus-positive California Highway Patrol officer. Also last November, one of Newsom's children was quarantined after a school classmate tested positive for Covid-19.

In July, the governor pulled two of his eldest children, ages 10 and 11, from summer camp after it was discovered that other children were going maskless at the facilities in violation of state policy.

Super PAC hits Parnell on protective orders requested by wife


A super PAC backing a rival Republican candidate is hitting the airwaves with an ad highlighting two instances when Pennsylvania Senate candidate Sean Parnell’s wife sought protective orders against him.

The ad, from the pro-Jeff Bartos “Jobs for Our Future” super PAC, is slated to run on TV on Saturday night during the Penn State University football game against Auburn University. The TV expense and a sizable digital campaign will add up to a six-figure buy, according to the super PAC.

The 60-second ad opens with a montage of Fox Nation clips featuring Parnell making comments about women, including saying, “The idea that a woman can live a happy and fulfilling life without a man — I think it's all nonsense.” (Parnell has previously dismissed the clip as a “comedy appearance.”)

Then, the ad references a recent story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, saying court and police records show that Parnell’s wife called 911 and sought protective orders against him in 2017 and 2018. The ad goes on to say that Parnell’s wife was later let go from the charity that Parnell runs, which she sued. The ad concludes by calling this “the real record of Sean Parnell.”

Saturday night's football game between 10th-ranked Penn State and No. 22 Auburn is expected to be a major draw in Pennsylvania. Both teams are undefeated, and the game is airing on ABC in prime time.

Bartos and Parnell are two of the best-known Republican candidates in the 2022 race to replace GOP Sen. Pat Toomey who is retiring. The super PAC, Jobs for Our Future, had more than $766,000 in its bank account by the end of June, according to its most recent financial disclosure.

Pennsylvania’s primaries are scheduled for next May, and it’s early — though not unprecedented — for an outside group to be airing negative ads. But there’s no question where Bartos himself stands on attacking Parnell at this time: Bartos is the one who made the protective orders against Parnell public, in an Inquirer interview last week. The revelations are part of a race that is heating up quickly, with former President Donald Trump weighing in recently to endorse Parnell. The pro-Bartos super PAC is also launching a website to publicize the information about Parnell.

Parnell told the Inquirer that Bartos was being “desperate” and “dishonorable.” The paper noted that both temporary orders sought by Parnell’s wife were later pulled back, one “under an agreement between Parnell and his wife,” and the other after a hearing with a judge.

Gonzalez exit demoralizes GOP moderates


Few presidents have taken more public pleasure in seeing one of their party’s own leave office than Donald Trump in his reaction to Rep. Anthony Gonzalez’s announcement that he would not seek reelection.

“1 down, 9 to go!” the former president gloated, in the second of two statements he released Friday celebrating Gonzalez’s exit.

The Ohio Republican’s departure was, of course, a victory for Trump, and the first victim in his post-election crusade against the 10 Republican House members who voted to impeach him.

Shannon Burns, the president of Ohio’s Strongsville GOP, said Gonzalez “was an up-and-coming star, who made, I think, a terrible political calculation, and paid a price for it.” In a district where Trump beat Joe Biden by more than 14 percentage points, Darrell Scott, an Ohio pastor and Trump adviser, said Gonzalez “got out to avoid an embarrassing or humiliating defeat.” And on Capitol Hill, even Trump’s critics could see that Gonzalez’s departure was a sign of Trump’s enduring grip on the party.

“Anthony Gonzalez is one of … the most honorable public servants that I've ever known. And the idea that the Republican Party is going to drive people like him out tells you that the party is at a moment that is very perilous for us,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said in an interview, adding “that's not a party that can lead into the future.”

Yet in forgoing a bruising primary against a Trump-endorsed candidate, Gonzalez also deprived Trump — and the Republican Party at large — of what would have been one of the best test cases in the country of the full extent of the former president’s dominion over the post-Trump GOP.

Gonzalez, despite crossing Trump, was not dead in the water. He had been out-raising Max Miller, a former Trump White House aide endorsed by the former president. Miller has heavy baggage of his own. And with the primary not scheduled to take place until next year, at least some Ohio Republicans did not view the outcome as a foregone conclusion.

“Every political consultant and candidate around the country is looking for a way to measure how much Trump’s endorsement would matter in a Republican primary going forward,” said Ryan Stubenrauch, a Republican strategist based in Ohio. “Who would’ve won a primary between a well-funded incumbent like Anthony Gonzalez and a Trump-backed candidate like Max Miller would have provided great data for that question.”

Former Republican Rep. Jim Renacci, the Ohio lawmaker Gonzalez replaced, said Trump’s endorsement no doubt was “powerful.” But Gonzalez, he said, had “the power of incumbency.”

Renacci said what he heard from people in the district following Gonzalez’s announcement was that Gonzalez was “a quitter.”

It’s a version of that sentiment that may contain the true lesson of Gonzalez’s departure. For some Republicans in a GOP now ruled over by Trump, it isn’t worth the fight. Roughly half of the 241 Republicans in the House when Trump took office have or will have left the chamber by 2023 — and that percentage could grow if more GOP incumbents choose to retire this cycle.

While some departed to join Trump's administration or seek higher office, roughly 90 have either retired or lost reelection. And there is every reason to believe that Republicans at odds with Trump’s behavior after the election — most significantly his promotion of the lie that the 2020 election was stolen — will slowly be squeezed out. One prominent Republican described the effect on the GOP of Trump’s wrath as diluting the party’s “gene pool” of “principled Republicans.”

For some Republicans, like Gonzalez, the vote to impeach Trump not only represented a fierce rebuke of Trump, but also of their hope that the party could one day expunge the ex-president from its ranks and begin piecing back together the lingering remnants of its former self. Now Gonzalez’s decision to not seek reelection has left the Beltway carefully watching to see if there will be more casualties.

Cheney, of Wyoming, is Trump’s top target in the primaries next year. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, another Republican on Trump’s hit list, may not even have a seat to run for after redistricting. And large swaths of the GOP’s pro-Trump base are now unavailable to Republican candidates who buck the former president.

For his part, Gonzalez maintained that he could have won what he told The New York Times would have been a “brutally hard primary.” But in a party buffeted by Trump, he lamented “the current state of our politics, especially many of the toxic dynamics inside our own party.”

Gonzalez, 36, was not a party dinosaur on his way out. A former NFL football player and Ohio State star, the second-term congressman’s youth and Cuban American heritage were once viewed as a sign of progress in a party desperate to diversify its ranks. A relatively quiet member, he had grown increasingly alarmed by Trump’s behavior even before the Capitol assault, according to GOP sources, though he largely withheld sharing his criticisms publicly.

“He came from outside the political world, but really had built a profile as a professional football player and by all accounts was very likable and doing it for all the right reasons,” said former Rep. Ryan Costello, who retired from the House in 2019 and is considering running for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat. “He was bipartisan, and I think when you look at what it’s like to serve in Congress right now, the reasons that he had for why he was leaving are the sorts of things where you say, ‘Can’t blame him.’”

Costello said, “It’s a shame … You hate to lose people like that due to the way politics is practiced these days.”

Poll: McAulliffe and Youngkin in tight race for Virginia governor


Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin are neck-and-neck in the Virginia governor’s race, according to a new Washington Post/Schar School poll released as the competitive statewide election kicked off on Friday.

McAuliffe garnered 50 percent support among likely voters, whereas Youngkin stands at 47 percent. Among registered voters, McAuliffe falls to 49 percent and Youngkin to 43 percent, though neither lead is statistically significant.

The November race will serve as one of the early reads on the political environment heading into the 2022 midterms, while also giving insight into how permanent Americans’ shift away from Election Day voting is after mail voting spiked during the 2020 election largely due to the pandemic.

The McAuliffee-Youngkin face-off is the first gubernatorial election in which Virginians have the option to participate in in-person early voting or no-excuse mail voting, policies put in place after the Democratic-controlled state government passed legislation scrapping a rule that required voters to have a valid excuse to vote by mail. Virginians can also vote early on Sundays this time around.

After clashing in Thursday night's debate on topics like abortion and Covid, the candidates hit the trail Friday to kick off early voting. McAuliffe began his day in Northern Virginia, while Youngkin’s day wraps up with a rally in Chesterfield, a red county that flipped to President Joe Biden last year.

McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014 to 2018, has held a slight lead over Youngkin in recent polls. Campaign finance records filed this week showed Youngkin with a steep fundraising advantage over the former governor, bolstered by the $4.5 million Youngkin, a former co-CEO of the investment firm The Carlyle Group, loaned his campaign.

But McAullife holds the advantage in cash on hand, with $12.6 million in the bank compared to Youngkin’s $6 million.

The poll released Friday was conducted by phone between Sept. 7-13, spanning 907 registered Virginia voters and 728 likely voters. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points for registered voters and plus or minus 4.5 percentage points for likely voters.

Opinion | Amy Coney Barrett Is Right About Problems With the Media. She Has a Chance to Fix It.


Justice Amy Coney Barrett put on her media critic hat this week, complaining that coverage of the Supreme Court fails to capture the justices’ deliberative process.

She’s right. But how could it?

We know about Barrett’s comments, including her lament about “hot takes on Twitter” and the notion that the justices are seen as “a bunch of partisan hacks,” only because of an enterprising reporter at the Louisville Courier Journal.

Barrett’s speech, at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville, was before an invite-only crowd at an event with limited media, no recording for dissemination and no heads-up to the Supreme Court press corps.

Her fellow conservative, Justice Clarence Thomas, similarly blasted the media a few days later in a speech at the University of Notre Dame. Once again, there was no livestream of his remarks for the public, though at least there is now video available.

If media coverage and the perception of the court is a real issue, the best solution can’t be keeping people away from the justices’ own remarks.

In 2014, Barrett’s former boss, Justice Antonin Scalia, quoted James Madison in a speech on civic education: “A popular Government without popular information, or at least the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both.”

We are well on our way to a farce. According to the University of Pennsylvania’s annual Annenberg Civics Knowledge Survey, more than half of the participants incorrectly believe Facebook is required to allow all Americans freedom of expression under the First Amendment. (Reminder: The First Amendment prohibits such censorship by the government, not social networks.)

There is clearly a knowledge void among the populace about our laws and the Supreme Court’s job in interpreting them. A problem, to be sure, but also an opportunity. Instead of blaming the media for failing to bridge the gap between court and countrymen, the justices themselves should do more to shed light on their approach. Who better to educate the people on the workings of the court than its members?

Here are three steps the Supreme Court can take right now that would go a long way toward building its credibility with the American people.

Allow cameras in the courtroom

The court recently announced that it will take the bench in person next month for the first time since the pandemic began, but the public is not allowed in for public health reasons. Some journalists will have access, but only those with full-time press credentials issued by the court’s Public Information Office. While the court will continue to livestream oral argument audio, people will not be able to watch the court do its work—including debate a host of contentious issues like the future of Roe v. Wade and the Second Amendment.

Oral argument is the only chance to observe the court’s deliberative process. A video livestream would be a ready-made civics lesson on the court’s procedures and how the justices consider a question before them. With cameras in the courtroom, not only could the public observe—and learn—in real time, but it would allow justices to essentially speak directly to the people rather than rely on the media as a middleman.

Unveil the shadow docket

Lately, not every major decision has an oral argument. An increasing number of substantive decisions arrive in the middle of the night through the “shadow docket” via an unsigned, bedrock-breaking single-paragraph order, as was the case for abortion rights in Texas.

If the court ultimately guts Roe v. Wade entirely next spring, after hearing oral argument in November, the practical effect of that decision would be largely the same for pregnant people in Texas right now. Clinics would turn people away and many would likely close. But, presumably, the court’s decision would accompany a lengthy written explanation and a list of the justices making up the majority. The decision would reflect, if not reveal, the court’s deliberative process.

When the justices hear a case on their regular docket, it marinates. Counsel for both sides file multiple briefs explaining their positions and responding to the other side’s arguments. Third parties file supporting amicus briefs, sometimes dozens. Each side gets at least 30 minutes of oral argument before the nine. The justices have time to deeply consider their decision, draft detailed opinions that guide not only the parties but the lower courts, and sometimes are moved to change their votes. It is a lengthy process that takes months.

Shadow docket rulings take days, if not hours. The public has virtually no window into the court’s decision-making process. Nor is there a requirement to explain the decision or even say which justices made it. The shadow docket functions this way often because the emergency relief requested warrants the pace. But the public would benefit from more transparency about how the court reaches these decisions and who signs them. The court directly communicating more information to the public means less interpretation by the press that “makes the decisions seem results-oriented,” as Barrett said.

Keep us in the loop

The fact that Barrett’s speech happened without notification to the designated Supreme Court press corps is not unusual. It is often the case that justices appear in public with no notice. Further, no recording was allowed. Also, not unusual.

That should change, and justices should promote the heck out of their appearances. These events are an opportunity to educate, illuminate and solidify public trust in the institution of the court, and that teachable moment is lost when people are excluded. Why not invite us all to learn in the Louisville classroom?

This week, Justice Stephen Breyer said to the Washington Post, “I've seen how long it's taken to earn enough trust of the American people so that they will — and almost automatically — follow what the court said.” It’s true. The court has no power to enforce its decisions. It relies on the American people to obey the rule of law. But that trust should go both ways. The court needs to trust the American people to see more, hear more and understand more about the court’s deliberative process.

These changes would not only assuage the justices’ concerns about how the media portrays the court. It would further the Madisonian principle that giving the American people information, or at least the means of acquiring it, ensures the continuation of our democratic experiment.

Liberals get ready to grab wheel of Dem agenda


Progressives have waited months for their turn to exert control over the Democratic agenda. Now it's here, and liberal leaders are weighing just how far to go.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi's left flank is quietly mulling whether to mobilize its roughly 100-member bloc to tank the centrist-crafted Senate infrastructure bill when it reaches the House floor within a week — unless they're assured that a mammoth Democrats-only social spending bill will also make it to President Joe Biden’s desk.

Progressive leaders see the coming House infrastructure vote as perhaps their most influential moment so far in Biden’s Washington. They were largely sidelined when Pelosi negotiated her way out of a standoff with centrist Democrats last month, and many are eager to demonstrate that the power of an emboldened left can match that of moderates who've repeatedly flexed on leadership over the multitrillion-dollar party-line spending plan.

“Even if there were Republicans that come along" to help the Senate infrastructure bill pass the House this month, said Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), "we will have more individuals, more Democrats who are going to vote it down without the reconciliation bill."

Jayapal said more than half of her 96-member caucus has privately indicated they’re willing to block the bipartisan Senate bill without their party-line bill in tow — far more than the roughly two dozen liberals who have gone public with their threat.

“I feel very confident in our numbers, and it is far beyond 20,” the Washington Democrat said.

The House returns Monday for a pivotal two-week session that's set to include a long-awaited vote on that Senate infrastructure deal. The plan, agreed to by Pelosi and moderates, is to vote on the bill by Sept. 27, in tandem with an up-to-$3.5 trillion package that funds dozens of liberal aims, from universal pre-K to Medicare expansion.

But as an intraparty tussle threatens that ambitious timeline, the party-line bill may not be ready by late September. And progressives fear Pelosi’s truce with centrists could leave their members with vanishingly few of their priorities.

Behind the scenes, progressive members have begun discussing how to wield their influence under the worst-case scenario: passage of the Senate infrastructure bill this month, with little progress on the party’s vast $3.5 trillion social spending plan. Still, even as several liberals vow to oppose the infrastructure bill, many senior Democrats contend it will be much tougher to make good on that threat when it actually comes to the floor.

If enough liberals are willing to hold up that legislation as leverage, some believe it would force moderates’ hands on the party’s much broader social spending package, which is funded in part by tax increases on the wealthy and corporations.

“A lot of us agreed to move the bipartisan bill with the understanding that the House was going to move them together. It’s certainly not my preference to let the bipartisan bill go without an agreement on reconciliation,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a former House member.

Many Democrats, though, are skeptical about defeating a major Biden priority — even temporarily.

“I’m not worried about the bill,” said House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a close Biden ally. But the South Carolinian also wouldn’t say whether leadership would try to delay the infrastructure vote if the party-line bill isn’t ready, an outcome many Democrats fear given how tense the private negotiations are with the Senate.

Moderates in the House, including several of the 10 who pushed for the late-September infrastructure vote, insist they can overcome the left’s opposition as long as they get GOP help. Centrist Democrats also privately doubt that enough liberals will be willing to tarnish Biden’s agenda by blocking the bill.

The moderate group reiterated Pelosi's commitment to a Sept. 27 vote in a lengthy statement Friday evening.

“We want to thank the leadership for their continued, strong commitment — codified in the rule and voted for by every Democratic member ... — to holding a vote on the historic bipartisan infrastructure bill by that date,” the group, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), wrote.

But Jayapal said her caucus is sticking with its same demand from this summer, that the dueling bills must move together. The group’s leaders surveyed their members again this month after asking in July, and the result was a widespread willingness to block the bipartisan deal.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), the group’s chief vote-counter, said in a statement that Biden, Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Progressive Caucus “all agree that these bills are two parts of a whole and will be passed together. That has not changed.”

The looming standoff is a key test for Jayapal, who consolidated power within the CPC last fall by becoming its sole leader and instituted a bevy of changes designed to make the group more influential by ensuring it votes as a bloc on key issues.

So far, the caucus has had few public showdowns with House leadership this Congress other than a short-lived dispute over the Capitol Police budget in a security funding bill last spring.

A senior Democratic aide indicated that leaders are aware of the progressives' demands: "There is serious concern among Leadership that there aren’t the votes to pass the infrastructure bill unless reconciliation moves at the same time, which can’t happen unless the Senate moves more expeditiously on pre-conferencing" the massive party-line bill, the aide said, speaking candidly on condition of anonymity.

Instead of publicly battling with their leaders, Jayapal and other senior progressives have leaned hard into their list of policy demands — from climate action to immigration overhauls — and helped those ideas win support across the broader caucus. Central elements of their plan are expected to make it into the Democrats’ final proposal.

Liberals aren't digging in on the infrastructure vote timing to "make a statement" about their power, Jayapal insisted. “It’s about really being able to say to the American people, we are absolutely 300 percent committed to delivering on what we promised you. They want to see us fight for them.”

Part of progressives' challenge is the breadth of their caucus in the House; it includes enthusiastic Biden backers, swing-district Democrats and even some members of the centrist Problem Solvers Caucus. And while the group is far bigger than its centrist counterparts, liberals are typically less willing to declare war on party leaders.

Across the Capitol, Senate liberals are openly rooting for Pelosi to find a way to stand firm, despite her deal with the moderate Democrats. They hope she can delay the infrastructure vote, allow her progressives to tank it or even finish the huge party-line bill in the next week — an all-but-impossible outcome.

“I am hopeful that we’ll hold the line. The deal always was, both pieces would go forward together,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “Everyone has the date ‘Sept. 27’ circled on their calendar.”

All 50 Senate Democrats supported the infrastructure bill, with the understanding that the party’s wings would be moving together. Many disliked the bipartisan bill, worried it didn’t spend enough to make a real difference and lukewarm on its shaky financing.

Yet liberals realized they couldn’t get moderates like Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to go along with the sweeping spending bill without also blessing Sinema and Manchin's bipartisan bill. To many progressives, separating the party’s two-track plan to muscle both proposals into law would be a violation of trust and risks substantive losses.

“If that goes forward, many, many important issues that are going to be addressed in reconciliation are unlikely to get done,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), ticking off climate, housing and education investments. “There’s so many important things that would be at risk of failing if we don’t keep these two bills connected.”

The calculation is different for less liberal Democrats. Those lawmakers would rather see the bipartisan bill sent to the president’s desk regardless of the social spending plan's status in order to bolster Biden as well as their candidates in tight Senate and House races. Democrats have now gone six months since the passage of $1.9 trillion in coronavirus relief without finalizing any more of the president’s priorities.

Asked about the infrastructure bill, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) — who faces a tough race next year — said he’d like to see the House “pass it now.”

Why Republicans Are Scared of Texas’ New Abortion Ban


When the Supreme Court allowed Texas’ 6-week abortion law to stand earlier this month, it was presented as a major victory for anti-abortion conservatives. After all, Republican state legislators in deep red states have long been passing increasingly restrictive abortion laws, only to see many later get struck down in the courts. Finally, one law got through (at least for now).

But if it’s the victory conservatives were hoping for, why aren’t high-profile Republicans celebrating it? Senate Republican leader Mitch Mconnell — never one to shy away from a political fight — had only this to say about the Supreme Court’s ruling: “I think it was a highly technical decision.” Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee who oversees the platform for the party, was out within hours declaring that she would challenge the legality of President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate, yet has been totally silent on the Texas abortion case — as well as the Biden Justice Department’s decision to challenge the law. Even most of Texas’ congressional delegation remained silent on the new abortion legislation.

What’s going on? When considering the political ramifications of the Texas abortion law, Ian Malcom’s famous line from Jurassic Park comes to mind, with a little social-wars twist: “Your [anti-abortion advocates] were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

For decades, Republican state lawmakers have been able to vote for and pass highly restrictive abortion laws without living through the political consequences, because the laws were typically enjoined by the courts before they ever took effect. The politicians got to check the pro-life box important to a segment of their voters without their constituents ever living under those strict laws. This kept the political backlash to their votes to a minimum.

This month, the Supreme Court called these legislators’ bluff by letting the Texas abortion law stand. Now the most restrictive abortion law in the country is under the political microscope and Republicans in Washington are being uncharacteristically quiet — at least in part because they sense that this law will do more to motivate the opposition than it will to rally the faithful.

Already, the Democrats can’t stop talking about it. After a brutal August that mired the Biden White House in one bad news cycle after another, the Supreme Court’s decision on Texas was like rain breaking a long drought for Democratic operatives. The issue allowed Democrats to unite their warring factions on the Hill, moved the news cycle off wall-to-wall coverage of Biden’s botched Afghanistan withdrawal, and raised money for Democratic candidates.


If larger historical trends hold, Republicans would be favored to win back the House in 2022, but the question now is whether anti-abortion advocates just handed a beleaguered White House the key to energizing their pro-abortion rights voters and potentially staving off a GOP landslide. By finding a legal loophole that allowed the Texas law to go into effect, did they win the battle but lose the war?

In answering that question, first, we shouldn’t pay too much attention to abortion issue polls. As a general matter, issue polling is deeply flawed in that it asks people to summarize their often complex and contradictory views into answers like “agree” and “strongly agree.” And unlike campaign polling — plagued by its own inadequacies — the results are never verified by an actual election.

Moreover, abortion is uniquely poorly polled. Whether someone identifies as “pro-life” or “pro-choice” — which are highly correlated with partisanship — isn’t helpful when debating, for example, whether a woman should be required to have an ultrasound before aborting a pregnancy. Asking respondents whether Roe should be overturned is only useful if the pollster is actually trying to determine whether voters think abortion restrictions should be decided by federal courts or state legislatures. “Do you believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases” gives us no information on the voter who believes that abortion at eight months should be prohibited and at six weeks should be legal.

So the more relevant question is whether the abortion issue motivates voters in both political camps and which side it motivates more.

There’s some research to show that abortion doesn’t motivate Republican voters all that much. As Ryan Burge, an assistant professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, found based on data from 2018, “large numbers of white evangelicals don’t place a great deal of importance on abortion … and other issues like immigration and issues of race may be even more effective at turning out the base in the future.”

The problem with that data, however, is that it was gathered before the confirmation of Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, in an era when the court was striking down most abortion restrictions. Not surprisingly, then, those researchers also found that the same voters believed it was very unlikely that the two SCOTUS precedents upholding a constitutional right to an abortion, Roe and Casey, would ever get overturned. In other words, it’s possible that voters stopped caring about abortion because they knew they couldn’t get far on the issue. This could mean that if the new 6-3 Court actually does move the ball down the field — so to speak — later this year, these voters would be much more motivated to vote on their anti-abortion beliefs.

Meanwhile, abortion is showing signs of being a motivating issue for Democrats, who are fighting to keep control of the House and Senate in 2022. According to a Morning Consult poll from last week, the share of Democratic women who say that “issues such as abortion, contraception and equal pay, are their top voting concerns” has risen from 8 percent to 14 percent since the Texas law went into effect. That may sound small, but if midterm elections are largely about motivating your own voters, then having an issue that can move turnout by a few percentage points is often the difference between winning and losing a top tier race.

So, both sides have reason to believe this issue can motivate their base under the right circumstances. But only the Democrats have the motivator of fear — both in the form of an obviously unconstitutional law that is currently being used to stop abortions in a state that they once again hope to flip in 2022 and the now much more realistic threat of similar laws passing in states with open Senate seats — like Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

The second point to consider is that the abortion debate will only gain steam next year, an election year. Because of the bizarre legal quirks of the Texas law, it will continue to wind its way through the courts for months and pop up in the news from time to time. But the true national abortion fight will come when the Supreme Court issues an opinion about Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, mostly likely in next June — just four and a half months before the 2022 election. (SCOTUS will hear the case later this year.) This — not the Texas case — represents the real challenge to Roe and Casey.

If the Supreme Court holds that there is no longer a constitutional right to obtain an abortion or holds that such a right only exists until roughly the end of the first trimester, individual states would be able to pass laws restricting abortion access or Congress would be able to pass a law recodifying a federal right to abortion access. This could make every state legislative race and congressional election a referendum on abortion legislation in a way that the country has never experienced. And the unpredictability of the outcome of such a large-scale fight should worry both sides.

Third, the Texas law is dividing the right. There are two big fault lines within the anti-abortion movement, and the Texas law is exacerbating both of them.

One dividing line is whether the goal of the anti-abortion movement should be to ban abortion or end abortion. The ban abortion crowd wants to pass laws that prohibit abortions. The end abortions folks, however, want to use whatever means are effective to reduce the number of abortions in the country. They are quick to point out that there are fewer abortions today than in 1973, when abortions were banned in large swaths of the country, proving that laws banning abortion will never end the practice by themselves. There are plenty of people in this crowd who think the Texas law’s reliance on “abortion bounty hunters,” as some people are calling them, to report abortions is a gross, counterproductive idea that will do more to turn people away from the movement than win hearts and minds to the cause.

Another fracture within the movement is reflected in almost every political fight — the incrementalists vs. the absolutists. The Texas law mandating a 6-week abortion ban and punishing those who aid and abet anyone who gets an abortion after that period is an absolutist one. The absolutists knew it was unconstitutional under current Supreme Court precedent and will likely be overturned, but they think it will have been worth the effort as long as it can save a few lives for the few weeks it is actually in effect. The incrementalists, on the other hand, wrote the law in Mississippi — a 15-week ban on abortion that relies on the consensus in Western European countries, which almost all restrict abortions after the first trimester. Most legal scholars believe this law could be the vehicle the conservative court uses to narrow or overturn Roe and Casey. These more incrementalist anti-abortion advocates still want to end abortions in the U.S. but they are willing to play a game of inches to get the ball into the end zone rather than throw a pass that has a high likelihood of getting intercepted by Chief Justice Roberts.

The result is that the anti-abortion movement is divided against itself. Proponents of the Texas law are claiming vindication, but the “end abortion” crowd is questioning its efficacy. The incrementalists are arguing that it’s counterproductive, and legal conservatives are pointing out that the same concept could now be used by liberals to create bounties on other constitutional rights like gun ownership and religious exercise. This leaves sizeable portions of the GOP’s base divided against themselves heading into a midterm that will require thousands of grassroots staff and volunteers across the country to all row in the same direction.

The Supreme Court in Roe purported to settle the abortion issue nearly 50 years ago, but instead the justices only moved the fight from the ballot box to the courts themselves. As one federal judge put it this month, “wrenching responsibility from the hands of state legislatures and giving it to judges has resulted in acrimony and results-oriented decisions.” Not coincidentally, judicial confirmation fights have only gotten more contentious since Roe, as the elected branches increasingly bring the courts into their political battles. In the first half of 2021, state legislatures passed more anti-abortion regulations than in any year since the Roe was decided in 1973 — all of which will be litigated in the courts.

If the Supreme Court gets out of the abortion business in the lead up to the 2022 elections, it will be up to voters and legislators to decide the issue for themselves. Midterm elections historically favor the party out of power, but Republicans may have just handed Democrats the issue they needed to motivate the Democratic voters that often stay home between presidential elections.

France recalls ambassadors to U.S., Australia over sub deal


French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Friday evening that France is immediately recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia in a backlash over a submarine deal.

Le Drian said in a statement that the decision, on request from President Emmanuel Macron, “is justified by the exceptional seriousness of the announcements” made by Australia and the United States.

He said the cancellation by Australia of a big contract to buy French conventional submarines in favor of nuclear-powered subs built with U.S. technology is “unacceptable behavior.”

A top French diplomat spoke Friday of a “crisis” in relations with the U.S. after Paris learned, just before the public announcement, that Australia was scrapping a big purchase of French conventional submarines in favor of nuclear subs built with U.S. technology.

The diplomat, who spoke anonymously in line with customary government practice, said that for Paris “this is a strategic question concerning the very nature of the relationship between Europe and the United States about the Indo-Pacific strategy.”

He would not speculate on the effects the situation would have on France's relationship with the U.S. “There’s a crisis,” he stressed.

French President Emmanuel Macron has not commented on the issue since President Joe Biden’s announcement of a strategic Indo-Pacific alliance with Australia and Britain, leading France to lose a nearly $100 billion deal to build diesel-electric submarines.

France has pushed for several years for a European strategy for boosting economic, political and defense ties in the region stretching from India and China to Japan and New Zealand. The EU unveiled this week its plan for the Indo-Pacific.

The French diplomat said Friday that Macron received a letter from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday morning announcing the decision to cancel the submarine deal.

French officials then decided to reach out to the U.S. administration "to ask what was going on," he said. He added that discussions with Washington took place just two to three hours before Biden's public announcement.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Thursday expressed “total incomprehension” at the move and criticized both Australia and the U.S.

“It was really a stab in the back. We built a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed,” he said. “This is not done between allies.”

He also compared Biden's move to those of his predecessor, Donald Trump, under Trump’s “America First” doctrine.

Paris had raised the issue of the Indo-Pacific strategy during the June 25 visit to Paris of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, expressing the importance of its submarine program with Australia, the diplomat said.

“We said that is was for us a very important and critical component in our Indo-Pacific strategy,” he said. Blinken met with Macron during the visit.

The French diplomat said Australia never mentioned to France before its will to shift to nuclear-powered submarines, including during a meeting between Macron and Morrison in Paris on June 15.

'Tragic mistake': U.S. determines Kabul drone strike killed innocent aid worker, nine family members


An investigation by U.S. Central Command has determined that an Aug. 29 drone strike in Kabul killed an innocent aid worker and nine members of his family, not a member of the ISIS-K terrorist group, a top general announced Friday.

The command now assesses that “it is unlikely” the man and vehicle targeted was affiliated with ISIS-K, the Afghanistan branch of ISIS, or "a direct threat to U.S. forces," Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, told reporters Friday.

“This strike was taken in the earnest belief that it would prevent an imminent threat to forces at the airport,” McKenzie said. “Our investigation now concludes that the strike was a tragic mistake."

The news comes as the Biden administration is already facing criticism over its Afghanistan withdrawal and the fact that the effort left hundreds of Americans and thousands of at-risk Afghans in the country at the end of August. More than 120,000 people were airlifted from Hamid Karzai International Airport before U.S. troops pulled out.

The revelation also comes one week after a New York Times investigation determined the target actually worked for an American aid organization.

Central Command ordered the Aug. 29 strike based on intelligence that the man was planning an "imminent" attack on the airport, where the military was scrambling to evacuate tens of thousands of American citizens and at-risk Afghans before the clock ran out on the withdrawal.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in early September called the strike "righteous."

But instead, the strike "tragically" killed "as many as 10 civilians," including up to seven children, McKenzie said.

Milley on Friday acknowledged the mistake, calling the "heart wrenching" strike "a horrible tragedy of war."

"In a dynamic high threat environment, the commanders on the ground had appropriate authority and had reasonable certainty that the target was valid," Milley said in a statement. "But after deeper post strike analysis our conclusion is that innocent civilians were killed."

McKenzie on Friday stood by the intelligence the military used to determine the target, noting the threat to the airport was posed by a "white Toyota Corolla," the same type of car that was destroyed in the strike, and that the military had "no indication that the strike would result in civilian casualties."

The strike must be considered "in the context of the situation on the ground," McKenzie said, adding that just days before an ISIS-K suicide bombing had killed 13 U.S. service members and more than 100 civilians at the airport.

In the 48 hours before the strike, the military had "a substantial body of intelligence" indicating that there would be another attack, and one recurring theme was that ISIS-K would use a white Toyota Corolla as a key element, McKenzie said.

Based on that intelligence, the military began surveilling the car belonging to the target, identified as Zemari Ahmadi, the morning of the strike, and continued observing its movements for eight hours, McKenzie said.

The strike was executed at 4:53 p.m. that afternoon because the military determined there was little potential for civilian casualties, McKenzie said. That assessment turned out to be wrong, he acknowledged.

McKenzie declined to comment as to whether anyone will be disciplined over the strike, noting that the investigation is ongoing. "I have nothing for you now because that involves personnel issues," he said.

CDC study finds Moderna vaccine is best at preventing Covid-19 hospitalization


Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine is the most effective at protecting against Covid-19 hospitalizations, according to a study published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An analysis of more than 3,600 adults hospitalized at 21 U.S. facilities from March to August found that vaccine efficacy against hospitalization was 93 percent for the Moderna vaccine compared to 88 percent for the Pfizer-BioNTech shot.

The effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine declined significantly after 120 days, the CDC’s report said, although it still provided strong protection against severe disease.

The Moderna vaccine also produced higher post-vaccination antibody levels than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the study found.

The study excluded immunocompromised people.

The CDC has released several studies looking at vaccine efficacy in particular groups, such as frontline health care workers, as the administration prepares to roll out boosters to at least some adults in the coming weeks. While some of those studies have included data on efficacy of the various vaccines, the study published Friday offers greater insight into the extent to which Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson protect against severe disease and Covid-19 hospitalization.

The data from the recent CDC cohort study suggests that the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine regimens protect better against hospitalization than the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot. However, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine still reduced risk of Covid-19-related hospitalization by 71 percent.

Although the efficacy of the vaccines varied, the CDC study showed that all of the FDA-approved Covid-19 vaccines still work well at protecting against Covid-19 hospitalization.

FDA panel votes against broad rollout of Pfizer booster shot, but may endorse narrower use


A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted 16-2 Friday to advise the agency against approving a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.

The vote is non-binding, but it is an unexpected roadblock for the Biden administration's plan to begin administering boosters widely as early as next week. Pfizer is seeking approval from FDA to offer the booster to people 16 and older, while Moderna has applied for authorization to market boosters for people 18 and older.

The advisory panel's unexpected no vote came after an hourslong debate that centered on concerns about the amount and quality of data available to weigh the booster's long-term effectiveness and its safety in young people. The independent committee is now debating whether to endorse a more limited use of the Pfizer-BioNTech booster for older people and those who are considered to be at higher risk of severe disease because of their underlying health or occupational exposure.

The meeting comes amid heated debate among federal and outside scientists about whether evidence supports the Biden administration's plan to begin rolling out boosters widely as early as next week. The FDA panel's vote is not binding, but the agency usually follows the recommendations of its advisory committee. Should the FDA sign off on booster doses, a CDC expert panel will meet next week to iron out the specifics of who should receive boosters and when.



Peter Marks, FDA's top vaccine regulator, asked committee members to examine "the totality of the evidence in order to make your recommendation for us,” including data from Israel showing that booster doses slashed the risk of severe Covid infections in its older population.

"The decision FDA needs to make is based on complex data evolving in front of our eyes," he said. "There are different views. Differing opinions are critical to assisting in regulatory determination. It's no secret here.”

But the panel's independent members voiced concerns about the lack of data on the safety and efficacy of a booster dose for the general public, especially people younger than 60.

"While I would probably support a three-dose recommendation for those over 60 or 65, I really have trouble supporting this as written for anyone of greater than or equal to 16," said Paul Offit of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Several members raised concerns about the clear lack of data on the booster's safety profile in young people, especially 16- and 17-year-olds.

“We have no data on the safety for this population at all," said Archana Chatterjee, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Rosalind Franklin University.

Such concerns arose early in the daylong meeting, when presenters and panel members alike expressed uncertain about whether there was clear evidence that boosters provide a benefit to younger people as well as to older people, whose immune systems are generally weaker, and whether there is sufficient safety data to move forward with a broad booster launch. Much of the concern centered on relatively rare instances of heart inflammation reported in recipients of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots, which both rely on mRNA technology.

Sara Oliver, a doctor with CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said that vaccines' efficacy against Covid infections and mild illness has dropped in the last few months. But it remains high against severe disease and hospitalization.

“Reasons for lower effectiveness likely include both waning over time and Delta variant," which is more than twice as contagious as previous variants, Oliver said.

Pfizer representatives told the FDA panel that maintaining high vaccine effectiveness is integral to containing the pandemic, positing that more instances of severe disease and hospitalization are likely in the U.S. if the country doesn't begin administering boosters to get ahead of the curve. The company argues that the effectiveness of its vaccine wanes over time, and that the rise of the Delta variant is not a major consideration in decisions on boosters.

Pfizer's stance leans in large part on data from Israel on booster performance in people over 60; the country has expanded its vaccine campaign to include boosters for people over 30. In a separate presentation, Israeli scientists suggested that their country would have exceeded hospital capacity over the summer had it not begun giving boosters.

But FDA clinical reviewer Joohee Lee said the data from Pfizer's own clinical trial to support the booster's effectiveness is limited given the small number of participants and the unknown impact of factors like behavioral changes on the results. The safety data is also limited with respect to reactions by age, she said, noting that just a dozen trial participants between the ages of 65 and 75 got booster doses.



Separately, the CDC published data on Friday showing that all three Covid-19 vaccines available in the United States — from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — still provide strong protection against hospitalization. The agency's study, published in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, included information on more than 3,600 adults hospitalized at 21 U.S. facilities from March to August.

The agency found that the Moderna vaccine's effectiveness against hospitalization was 93 percent, compared to 88 percent for the Pfizer-BioNTech shot. The effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine declined significantly after 120 days, the CDC’s report said, although it still provided strong protection against severe disease.

And a Pfizer-sponsored analysis published Wednesday found that the vaccine's efficacy against severe disease remained stable at nearly 97 percent over six months. The data came from an ongoing trial of more than 45,000 people in six countries who received the company's two-dose initial vaccination regimen.

Tensions over the booster debate were palpable in opening statements delivered by two senior FDA officials, one of whom signed onto an essay published in The Lancet this week arguing that boosters are not immediately needed for most adults.

Earlier in the day, Marks urged the committee to focus on the science behind the booster application “and not on operational issues related to a booster campaign or on issues related to global vaccine equity" — adding that any forays into those topics would be interrupted.

“We know that there may be differing opinions as to the interpretation of the data regarding the potential need for additional doses, and we strongly encourage all the different viewpoints to be ... discussed regarding the data, which is complex and evolving. It also requires near real-time analyses," he said.

Marion Gruber, the retiring director of FDA's Office of Vaccines Research and Review, said she looked forward to a “robust and transparent and evidence-based discussion.” The scientists who wrote the Lancet essay argued the existing science doesn't support boosting the general population just yet, especially when much of the world has yet to receive their initial shots.

"All of my actions and decisions over my 32-year FDA career have been grounded in science and with you in mind and in the best interest of your health and safety, and I will continue to hold fast to these principles moving forward," she said.

Scientists from FDA and other institutions this week suggested that the Israeli data contained several limitations that could make it difficult to underpin a regulatory decision in the U.S.

“I honestly don’t think there is enough good quality data at this point to make an informed decision," Brittany Kmush, an epidemiologist at Syracuse University, said of the Israeli study, noting the 12-day follow-up period and the variability of the authors' estimates.

Walid Gellad, director for the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing at the University of Pittsburgh, said he hopes FDA and its advisers push Pfizer and others on the safety data from both the company and Israel. He pointed to the lack of direct safety data on additional doses given to 16- and 17-year-olds.

“The question for me is not do the boosters have some effect. The question is how much of an effect they have," he said. "I’m not sure the Israeli data is giving us enough certainty about that.”

Some Biden health officials have suggested the Israeli data makes a strong case for permitting boosters in the U.S., given that the country is several weeks ahead regarding Covid trends.

Opinion | The Folly of Premature Political Obituaries


In a time-honored practice, obituary writers pre-write the death notices of famous people before they are actually ushered to their eternal reward. For instance, at one point in 2014, New York Times obituarist Robert McFadden had 235 “advances” in the can awaiting the demise of his subjects. Similarly, most political reporters and columnists keep stored in memory or in a tickler file the starter yeast for the political obituary of the president of the United States to be baked the day he blunders or circumstances swamp him.

A covey of political obituarists predictably took wing last month when Kabul fell and continue flocking this month to spell the end — or least the coming end, or the beginning of the coming end — of Joe Biden’s presidency. These weren’t death wishes as much as they were examples of journalistic boilerplate. Journalists absolutely love to write that a president has suffered a blow he will never recover from. How many times during Donald Trump’s first campaign for president or during his administration did the embalmers of the press announce that he had gone too far this time and proceed to prepare him for burial?

The brilliance of political deaths of presidents foretold is that they’re usually so vague that the writers who make the predictions are rarely held accountable. For instance, nobody in the commentariat paid a price for claiming that the walls were closing in on Trump or that his status was so desperate that he would have to resign. The only time a pundit or reporter wants his deathwatch prediction cited is when a president actually gets shown the door. They line up to say, “See, I was right,” when Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford go down but demand their Miranda rights when Ronald Reagan stymies their prophesies by surviving Iran-Contra or when Bill Clinton rides out his sex scandal, wins acquittal in the Senate and gets a bounce in the polls. The point here isn’t that the commentariat should never predict a downfall, an impeachment, a resignation or a “failed” presidency but that they should 1) have some humility about their ability to see the future, and 2) remind the reader at the end of the year how wrong they were if their forecast bombs. If journalists were any better than a coin toss at predicting the future, wouldn’t they be wiser to apply their talents to the stock market?


Where conventional obituaries traditionally busy themselves with recounting the bright bloomings of life, spending only a couple of sentences describing how the subject died, political obituaries burrow into the death groove with the enthusiasm of a medical examiner. Building on the foundation of their pre-written suppositions, Biden’s political obituarists have seized on the loss of Afghanistan — something that would have happened had Biden’s opponent Donald Trump remained in the White House — to describe the Biden presidency as in “crisis” (Vanity Fair); to give credence to an embattled presidency gone into hiding (POLITICO); to question Biden’s competence (Washington Post); to declare the administration faces ruinous scrutiny (CNN); and to advise him on how to save his endangered presidency (New York Times). Brookings scholar William A. Galston framed his pre-obit as a question, asking if the Biden presidency would survive Afghanistan’s fall. And the Spectator rated the Biden presidency as lights out: “Joe Biden is beginning to feel like an ex-president after only nine months in office.”

Biden’s pre-death notices may obsess on Afghanistan, but they’re not limited to that event. Our political obituarists are capable of inflating any knotty problem or calamity into a potential presidential showstopper. For example, the current Biden crisis file includes the Covid-19 pandemic, social discontent, climate change, Biden’s helplessness in the face of the Republican Party’s know-nothings, Biden’s falling popularity in the polls (only slightly better than Trump’s at the same time in his presidency), the border predicament and other so-called inflection points that could, if left unattended, take the president out.

Not to minimize any of these challenges, but the political obituarist almost never considers the power of the president to muddle through when confronted with a dilemma. Look at how long Nixon muddled on Vietnam! Or how long presidents have muddled on the climate! Or the border! If something cannot go on forever, it will stop, economist Herbert Stein famously said. My unwritten corollary states that if something can go on forever, it will continue and continue, which is often the case with presidential crises that get kicked down the road.

One reason so much of the Biden presidency grist has been bundled as evidence of his doom is because it’s the firmest hook to hang the facts on. There’s no logical reason the rough patch Biden has encountered couldn’t be viewed through the lens of the 2022 midterms — as in, Biden is going to be in a lot of trouble next year if he doesn’t start throwing up some legislative wins for his party to campaign on. But the press doesn’t want to fire the starting pistol on 2022 yet. Instead, pundits presage Biden’s end because in the reductionist tradition of political pre-obituaries, it’s never too soon to assert that something has dealt a fatal blow to a presidency — even one like Biden’s, which has at least 1,221 more days to go.

None of this is to suggest that the Biden presidency will remain immune to a dark ending. A meteor could take him out tonight. Or the Democrats could lose the House and Senate next year and the impeachment engine fires up again. But historically, the most ruinous thing to a presidency is a bad economy, but bad economies don’t arrive all at once, like a pandemic or the collapse of a foreign ally. Consulting the economic dashboard, we find much good news for Biden. Joblessness is still declining, so is poverty, and inflation doesn’t look too bad. What Jimmy Carter would have given for those numbers! If the economy were to flatline, who wouldn’t entertain images of his political career sliding into oblivion? But you don’t measure a presidency for a casket every time the president catches a cold. Until something calamitous happens, we can assume that his presidency has years left to it.

Until then, a word to Biden’s pre-obituarists: He’s not dead yet.

******

Send pre-obits of me to shafer.politico@gmail.com. My email alerts have bought a burial vault to share with my Twitter feed. My RSS feed was born dead and dies a little more every day.

Dem senators warned of long nights and weekend work as fiscal cliff looms


Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office on Friday warned Democrats to be ready to work late nights and weekends this month, a sign of the strenuous weeks ahead, according to two Democratic aides.

Leadership's notice comes as Senate Democrats face an intense fall schedule, with multiple fiscal deadlines hitting as the chamber also works to confirm President Joe Biden’s nominees.

In the coming weeks, Democrats will need to fund the government past Sept. 30, as well as address the debt ceiling. Senate Republicans have vowed they will not vote to raise the debt ceiling and argue that Democrats can do so on their own using reconciliation. But the White House and Democratic leadership are pushing for a bipartisan solution, saying much of the debt was racked up under former President Donald Trump.

In addition, Democrats are racing to finalize their up-to $3.5 trillion social spending plan. Progressives had hoped that the social spending package would be ready by Sept. 27, the date Speaker Nancy Pelosi has set for a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, but Democrats increasingly acknowledge that that timeline is unlikely.

Senate Democrats are also set to vote as soon as next week on an intraparty compromise bill on election and ethics reform. A working group of Senate Democrats introduced the legislation this week, but it’s widely expected to fail amid unanimous opposition from Senate Republicans.

Durham prosecution faces hurdles in D.C. court


For Special Counsel John Durham, obtaining an indictment of D.C. lawyer Michael Sussmann for allegedly lying to the FBI during its investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia may turn out to be the easy part.

Getting a Washington jury to convict Sussmann could be far harder, judging by a case with significant parallels: the 2019 prosecution of former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig.

Craig, too, went to trial on a single felony false-statement count unaccompanied by any other substantive charge. The case had strong political overtones and came down, largely, to a swearing contest between the defendant and a longtime government lawyer.

It took the jury less than five hours to acquit Craig after a two-and-a-half-week trial, with some jurors saying they suspected politics were at work in the decision to go after the longtime Democratic lawyer.

Sussmann’s case could produce similar sentiments. Prosecutors contend that the former Perkins Coie partner — who left the firm on Thursday — was working for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee at the time of a September 2016 meeting with the FBI’s top lawyer. According to the indictment, Sussmann lied to the bureau by claiming that he wasn’t speaking to them on behalf of any client.



The similarities go further, with both cases turning on murky memories of an in-person meeting that was not recorded or transcribed, as well as questions about whether the defendants were acting on their own accord or on behalf of others who were running up multi-million-dollar legal bills.

The stakes of Sussmann’s case go well beyond his own fortunes: A conviction could buttress former President Donald Trump’s claims that the Russia probe was illegitimate and politically motivated. Conversely, an acquittal would suggest Durham’s investigation had turned up little wrongdoing.

During a brief appearance in federal court in Washington on Friday, Sussmann pleaded not guilty through one of his attorneys and was released on $100,000 bond.

Sussmann's attorneys declined to comment on the parallels to Craig’s case or on the proceedings Friday. However, they argued in a statement Thursday that politics infected the decision to charge Sussmann.

“Michael Sussmann was indicted today because of politics, not facts,” said defense attorneys Sean Berkowitz and Michael Bosworth. “This case represents the opposite of everything the Department of Justice is supposed to stand for. Mr. Sussmann will fight this baseless and politically inspired prosecution.”

Sussmann’s lawyers did not expand on their claims about political motivations, but they implied that Durham — a career prosecutor given special counsel status last year by Attorney General Bill Barr — was falling in line with Trump’s public demands that Durham’s inquiry into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe show some concrete results beyond the guilty plea secured last year from a low-level FBI attorney who admitted to doctoring an email.

Despite Durham’s special-counsel appointment, Attorney General Merrick Garland could have halted Sussmann’s indictment. But doing so would have triggered a report to Congress and an inevitable political firestorm.

Former U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance said she suspects Garland decided to defer to career prosecutors about whether to file the case.

“There were undoubtedly equities that weighed in in favor of permitting a career person to make charging decisions,” Vance said.

Vance also said she thinks prosecutors may struggle to obtain a guilty verdict against Sussmann “unless the evidence in this case is much better than reported.”

Vance called the charge “a very difficult one to understand, especially when compared to other cases involving false statements in court or to Congress that DOJ has passed on prosecuting.”

Sussmann’s case revolves around an exchange with James Baker, the FBI’s general counsel at the time, at the bureau’s headquarters. Baker took no notes, although an FBI colleague who did not attend the session wrote down that Baker said Sussmann said he wasn’t coming forward on behalf of any client in relaying the information about possible computer links between Trump and a Russian bank.

Craig’s prosecution turned in large part on his statements at a meeting with staffers from the Justice Department’s Foreign Agent Registration Act unit in October 2013. At issue was Craig’s work on a report for Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice about the country’s handling of the trial of a former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko.

While more people attended that meeting, including two of Craig’s colleagues at law firm Skadden Arps, recollections of what was said varied. One of Craig’s colleagues took notes, but no notes taken by government officials were ever found.

Some longtime legal analysts said prosecutors can misjudge the strength of cases involving allegations of false statements to government investigators.

“You can work yourself up into a rage if you think someone is lying to you, even if the evidence is weak,” said Stuart Taylor, a former New York Times reporter, attorney and friend of Craig.

Craig’s billing became an alibi of sorts at his trial. Prosecutors said it was evident that the whopping $4.6 million Craig’s firm was paid — largely from a Ukrainian oligarch — for the report, motivated his work. The PR effort included his drive to preview the report for a prominent New York Times reporter, David Sanger, and discussions with other journalists.

However, Craig maintained at trial that he was protecting his own interests and that of his firm — not his client — in reaching out to Sanger and others. To buttress his claim, Craig testified that he did not bill Ukraine for the time spent talking to Sanger or other reporters.

“Did you charge the Ministry of Justice for any of the time you spent talking to journalists?” defense attorney William Taylor asked.

“No,” Craig said. “I was not working for Ukraine at that moment.”

Sussmann’s case could trigger a similar dispute. The grand jury indictment prepared by Durham’s prosecutors contends Sussmann billed the Clinton campaign for his discussion with the FBI’s Baker, but Sussmann’s lawyers have taken issue with that.

A more fundamental question surrounding both cases is whether jurors will take a false-statement charge seriously in the absence of some other charged crime.

During opening statements in the Craig case, Taylor drew a rebuke from the judge for seeking to minimize the false-statement charge by telling jurors it “was not a case about stealing or assault or even bribery.”

Sussmann’s attorneys are already challenging Durham’s claims surrounding the case, including the indictment’s suggestion that Sussmann intentionally relayed inaccurate or unreliable information in order to build an anti-Trump “narrative.”

“The Special Counsel appears to be using this indictment to advance a conspiracy theory he has chosen not to actually charge,” Berkowitz and Bosworth wrote. “Stripped of its political bluster, innuendo, and irrelevant details, what is striking about the allegations in the indictment is how few of them actually relate to the charge the Special Counsel chose to bring.”

While the similarities are striking, there are differences between the cases.

While Craig was charged under the same false-statement statute, he was not technically charged with making a false statement. Instead, prosecutors accused him of violating a prong of the law that prohibits schemes aimed at deceiving the government.

Craig also carried with him a reputation and history few lawyers in Washington would be able to muster. At his trial, his lawyers boasted of their 74-year-old client’s half-century of work, including stints registering African American voters in the South during the civil rights movement. The judge allowed Craig to call four character witnesses, including a retired Georgia judge who worked on anti-war efforts with Craig in the 1960s.

Sussmann, 57, enjoys a strong reputation as a former federal prosecutor and cybersecurity expert, but is unlikely to receive the outpouring of support Craig had at his trial.

However, Sussmann has some advantages Craig did not. A D.C. jury is unlikely to see Sussmann’s clients — the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton’s campaign and a technology expert — as nefarious forces. Craig’s lucrative work for Ukraine, by contrast, was viewed as unwise by some of his allies in human rights circles and aligned him with figures like GOP lobbyist Paul Manafort.

Some lawyers observing the Sussmann saga have also compared it to the Justice Department’s prosecution of former Sen. John Edwards on charges stemming from nearly $1 million in expenses his supporters paid for a campaign videographer who became pregnant with Edwards' child following an extramarital affair.

That case was championed by a Republican U.S. attorney, George Holding, who pressed for Edwards’ indictment early in the Obama administration. Although many legal experts and former prosecutors viewed the case as flawed, rejecting the charges would have led to a political spectacle, much like the one that would have erupted if Garland rejected Durham’s proposed indictment of Sussmann.

Obama appointees ultimately approved the case against Edwards, but at a 2012 trial a North Carolina jury deadlocked on most charges. The Justice Department quickly decided not to conduct a retrial.

Holding resigned shortly after Edwards was indicted. Capitalizing on the publicity, the former prosecutor ran for Congress and won election to the House. He served for four terms, but declined to run for reelection last year.

Hoyer: House will vote to avoid debt default, shutdown next week


The House will vote next week on a measure to stave off a U.S. debt default, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Friday, although it’s unclear if Democrats will pair that with a stopgap funding bill to avoid a government shutdown on Oct. 1.

Hoyer confirmed in a letter to colleagues that the party will look to suspend the cap on how much money the government can borrow, rather than increase that figure outright. Both parties have been far more willing to support a suspension than a hike in recent years, since it gives lawmakers some cover from the political blowback that could follow.

The Maryland Democrat didn’t provide a timeline for the length of the planned suspension, which amounts to hitting pause on the often-volatile debt issue. If Democrats choose to vote on a stand-alone debt measure, it would force Republicans to go on the record after both parties agreed to suspend the debt ceiling just two years ago as part of a budget deal with then-President Donald Trump.

Decoupling government funding from the debt limit would leave many Republicans more willing to back a short-term government funding bill that includes billions of dollars in disaster aid for hurricane-battered red states across the southeast, which was requested by President Joe Biden.

That detachment of debt from government funding would rob Democrats of a potential messaging opportunity against the recalcitrant GOP. Democratic leaders have been mulling whether to tie the two together, thus daring Republicans to go on the record against a plan to avoid a shutdown and debt default while offering disaster aid.

But some Republicans have indicated their willingness to support just a stopgap that includes hurricane and flood relief. Democrats just have to drop their debt limit push, GOP lawmakers say, ceding a huge leverage point and pushing a massive legislative headache into next month. The stopgap funding bill set for action next week is set to run through December.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has implored Congress to act on the debt ceiling, with her agency set to run out of cash as soon as next month. She has warned that waiting until the last minute could “irreparable damage to the U.S. economy.” Other experts have estimated that lawmakers may have until mid-November to act.

Republicans insist that Democrats can raise the debt limit on their own through reconciliation, or the special budget process that they’re using to pass trillions of dollars in party priorities without GOP votes. But moderate Democrats aren’t likely to support a debt ceiling hike and the White House has said it wants to pursue a bipartisan solution, accusing Republicans of playing chicken with a typically bipartisan issue that could have calamitous consequences.

A cap on the nation’s ability to borrow money was reinstated on Aug. 1. Treasury Department has since implemented a number of workarounds to keep paying the government’s bills on time. Once those measures are exhausted, financial markets could be thrown into chaos and the government’s credit rating could tank, among other unparalleled consequences.

U.S. threatens sanctions against officials in Tigray conflict


The White House on Friday threatened to impose sanctions against Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and other leaders involved in a conflict gripping the Tigray region, where 10 months of fighting have left hundreds of thousands of people facing famine.

A new executive order allows the U.S. Treasury Department to sanction leaders and groups seen as fueling the violence if they don't take steps soon to stop the fighting. Senior U.S. officials who previewed the order Thursday said that while it does not set a deadline on the leaders, they wanted to see progress made toward a cease-fire in the coming weeks. But the U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss White House strategy, said they were not optimistic Abiy would change course.

Abiy's office responded Friday in a letter addressed to President Joe Biden that said Ethiopia would not “succumb to consequences of pressure."

The 10-month conflict in Tigray has grown from a political dispute into a more serious war threatening stability in Ethiopia, the second-most populous country in Africa and a key U.S. security ally in the region. The fighting, which involved various forces and soldiers from neighboring Eritrea, has triggered the world's largest hunger crisis in a decade.

The U.S. and United Nations say Ethiopian troops have prevented passage of trucks carrying food and other aid. Scores of people have starved to death, The Associated Press has reported.

U.S. officials said Thursday that just 10% of humanitarian supplies intended for Tigray have been allowed into the region during the last month.

As the situation deteriorates, Biden’s executive order gives the Treasury and State departments authority to impose sanctions against leaders of all sides in the conflict — the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments as well as the regional forces in Tigray and Amhara. The Treasury Department will exempt humanitarian efforts from any potential sanctions.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the executive order “underscores our resolve to use every appropriate tool at our disposal to bring relief to the long-suffering people of the region.”

Previous U.S. pressure on the combatants has failed. A U.S. announcement in May of visa restrictions against Ethiopian and Eritrean officials was dismissed by Abiy's government as an effort to “meddle in our internal affairs.”

U.S. officials who spoke Thursday called on Abiy to show he would move toward a settlement before the new Parliament is seated on Oct. 4 following his party's landslide victory in July. He now has a new five-year term. No voting was held in the Tigray region.

The war has the potential to fracture Ethiopia just a few years after Abiy moved to resolve the country’s decades-long conflict with neighboring Eritrea.

The U.S. officials expressed concern that Abiy will press for a military success to present to lawmakers when the new government is formed on Oct. 4. His government’s recent call for all able citizens to join the fight and stop the Tigray forces “once and for all” caused some international alarm.

Abiy's letter Friday again referred to Tigray forces as terrorists and accused the U.S. of not reciprocating support Ethiopia has given American efforts to fight the al-Shabab extremist group in neighboring Somalia.

"We have seen the consequences and aftermaths of hurried and rash decisions made by various U.S. administrations that have left many global populations in more desolate conditions than the intervention attempted to rectify," the letter said.

Since retaking much of their embattled region from Ethiopian forces in June in a dramatic turn in the war, the Tigray forces have brought the fighting into the country’s neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara. The Tigray forces say they are pressuring the government to lift a blockade on Tigray that has left millions of people without telecommunications, electricity, banking services and almost all humanitarian aid.

Now the massive humanitarian crisis that affects millions inside Tigray is spreading as hundreds of thousands of people in Amhara and Afar flee the Tigray fighters, some alleging retaliatory attacks, which the Tigray forces have denied.

Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize for restoring ties with Eritrea but has since joined forces with Ethiopia’s former enemy to wage war in Tigray. Eritrean soldiers have been accused by witnesses of some of the war’s worst atrocities. Now they are active again inside Tigray, after pulling back in June when Ethiopian forces retreated.

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