Politico

How the pandemic is forging a new consensus on globalization


The coronavirus crisis did what President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade wars could not for years. It did what anti-globalization advocates could not for decades.

The pandemic threw a harsh spotlight on the shortcomings of globalization, one so intense that it set off an urgent search for new approaches across the political spectrum — from Washington to Brussels to Beijing.

As recently as a year ago, the political effort to reshape global commerce was still unfolding under familiar political slogans that focused on the interests of exporters and workers: Trump called for a “better deal” with China while congressional Democrats demanded “fair trade” along with strengthened environmental and labor protections in trade agreements.

The coronavirus pandemic abruptly shifted the terms of the debate to one that is more visceral and practical to everyone who buys things.

From the White House and Congress to boardrooms and business schools, the debate is no longer whether the relentless march of globalization over the last three decades has led to an outcome that is “fair” or a “good deal” — but whether it has become simply too risky and unreliable to tolerate.

As countries around the world confronted abrupt shortages of everything from personal protective equipment and medicine to laptop computers for schoolchildren, the pandemic put on naked display just how dependent the world had become on imports for basic goods, particularly from China. No longer the stuff of economic texts, disruption to global supply chains became a matter of life and death.

The old debates about lowering prices by maximizing efficiency when the world is running smoothly — versus the vulnerability to shortages if far-flung suppliers are unable, or unwilling — to supply our needs, took on new fire.

The extent to which “vulnerability” has replaced efficiency as the key concern shaping the thinking of policymakers, business leaders and economists emerged in interviews for the new season of POLITICO’s Global Translations podcast series, which launches Wednesday.

“What Covid did was sort of focus people like a laser on this,” Tom Duesterberg, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and former assistant secretary for international economic policy at the Commerce Department under President George H. W. Bush, said on the podcast.

“At one point in time, 70 percent of the ports of entry around the world for shipping were affected by Covid. You couldn’t put stuff on a ship and get it going to where it needed to go. … Most countries, at one point during the height of the crisis, cut off supplies of critical materials, medicines, personal protective equipment and the like,” he said.

The notion that global supply chains have proven “highly vulnerable” and must be made “more resilient” — including by bringing production back to domestic soil — has become a key refrain rising from the crisis, spurring congressional hearings and campaign promises.

If pandemics are becoming more common and climate change is creating more frequent disruptions of other types — hurricanes, floods, and forest fires — “resiliency” is now becoming as much a concern for global supply chains as it has become for levees and building codes in flood- and fire-prone areas.

We didn’t get here overnight or by accident. A broad recognition has emerged that the vulnerability arose from companies chasing efficiency — the lowest price from a country that made a policy decision to build itself into a factory for the world. (“The China price, it was called in the 1990s. Everybody had to get the China price,” Duesterberg said.)

At the same time, advances in logistics and transportation allowed products to be sourced, assembled and transported half a world away. Meanwhile, businesses adopted a closely choreographed “just-in-time” approach to manufacturing and delivery that did away with inventories as another cost to be cut.

“We teach our students to basically to optimize supply chains — to drive cost efficiency in supply chains. And over the years, global companies — a lot of companies — have perfected this art. They know how to do this. Well, guess what? It has also made supply chains highly vulnerable,” said Adegoke Oke, an associate professor of supply chain management at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business.

Oke, who got his first taste of supply chain vulnerability working as an engineer in Nigerian oil fields, compared supply chains to a game of tug of war: If one player falls down, everyone else on his or her team is likely to topple, too. “The weak link actually determines the strength of the chain,” he said, describing Chinese factory closures at the start of the pandemic as “the big guy [who] drops and brings everyone down with them.”

The pandemic has led Oke to overhaul his lesson plan to include resiliency in addition to efficiency. “How to do that will probably be one of my key focuses in my classes moving forward, how to be resilient,” he said.

While talk of supply chain resiliency may sound more like MBA-speak than a bumper-sticker slogan, it has major political implications. Across the ideological spectrum and around the world, policymakers are scrambling for ways to bring production back home and to diversify away from a single source. Such moves can involve everything from incentives and loan guarantees to more direct forms of subsidies and direct government procurement. In other words, it envisions a major course correction from the push for “free trade” and letting the invisible hand of unregulated market forces decide what is produced where.

In her first speech as the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Kamala Harris vowed to “bring back critical supply chains so the future is made in America.” The Trump administration has already started to use tools such as the Defense Production Act to do just that.



Vaccine supply chains, of course, are top of mind, but they are not the only area of concern. Among the areas drawing energetic political attention are the scarce natural resources needed to produce batteries for cell phones and electric vehicles — a stage on which, once again, China plays an outsized role. (Upcoming podcast episodes explore these areas, as well the policy options and tools that governments are embracing and envisioning.)

But what about big guy on the rope? With China’s trading partners feeling vulnerable, how is the conversation playing out inside Beijing? Chinese leaders are meeting later this month to hammer out their next five-year plan for China’s development.

One focus of the new plan: bringing more high-tech production to China, and lessening reliance on U.S. suppliers in particular.

Trump’s 2020 cure-all: Rallies, rallies and more rallies


President Donald Trump yearns for the magic of his 2016 upstart campaign: the multi-rally days, crisscrossing the country in a Trump-branded plane, the screaming crowds.

So he’s designed a 2016 redux in 2020 to recapture that spirit, casting off the constraints of a pandemic, his own presidency and even the advice of some of his own advisers.

Trump views rallies in battleground states as the linchpin of his closing argument, a means to excite his supporters and ensure they vote on Nov. 3. But many Republicans close to the White House, former senior administration officials and political advisers say the rallies are largely a way to keep the unscripted and undisciplined president occupied, since they do little to persuade new Trump voters. Rallies, they note, do not woo senior citizens, independents or suburban women, many of whom have moved away from the Trump ticket this election cycle. Most of Trump’s rallies are no longer televised nationally as they once were.

And with coronavirus infection rates climbing, the Trump rallies often draw negative headlines in local news markets because the packed events defy public health guidelines, featuring few masks and almost no social distancing. After Trump’s recent rallies in Bemidji and Duluth, Minn. — both in counties the Trump campaign hopes to win — local health authorities connected roughly 24 new Covid-19 cases to the rallies and protests outside of them.

“I don’t think he has a lot of other options, if they are trying to figure out a way for him to spend his time,” said one former senior administration official. “The president easily gets stuck in things of the past and tries to repeat them. Rallies are the best thing they have for him. He wants to be on the road, and you can’t tell him to do something different.”

Trump’s political allies and advisers argue the rallies provide the campaign with coveted data they can use to target voters during the final days. And, they say, the gatherings give supporters a way to feel connected to the candidate, who often delivers 90-minute speeches full of Trump’s greatest hits and grievances.

Perhaps most importantly, the rush of the rallies and crowds puts Trump in a good mood. “He gets a lot of energy from them,” said a second former senior administration official.

“It’s about making sure as many people have access to him as possible,” said one Republican close to the campaign. “One of the things that got Trump over the hump in 2016 was his willingness to physically outwork Clinton. In the last week, he barnstormed all across the country and had 11 events in two days before Election Day. That week was the most consequential of the election. He’s replicating that effort this time around, but it’ll be more sustained over a longer period of time.”



A Trump campaign official argued the rallies do draw new voters. The official said the campaign’s internal data showed nearly a quarter percent of rally goers at a recent Prescott, Ariz. gathering did not consider themselves Republicans, and that nearly 38 percent had not voted in 2016. Similarly, data from a Tucson rally indicated nearly 29 percent of the attendees did not vote in 2016 — stats, the campaign argues, that give credence to the idea of hidden Trump supporters.

This week alone, Trump is scheduled to do rallies in Arizona, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida, while Vice President Mike Pence travels to Maine, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana for events.

“This is a get-out-the-vote effort, and the rallies help that,” said a senior administration official, who argued the margin of victory in North Carolina’s recent congressional special election was smaller than the attendance at a rally Trump spoke at the night before ballots were cast.

“I think you could see that again and again this year,” the official added. “If he can speak to another 100,000 people in Michigan in the next two weeks, that might end up being the difference.”

In a statement, Samantha Zager, deputy national press secretary for the Trump campaign, said rallies are a chance for the public “to hear directly” from the president “about his vision for the country,” adding that the events “exemplify the palpable enthusiasm for our president.”

She added: “While Joe Biden takes five out of six days off leading into a debate, President Trump and his team are using rallies to energize the activist class, dominate local coverage for days, and collect data from new voters.”

Not all Republicans are convinced the rallies help the president that much.

Campaign officials insist Trump’s closing argument should focus on the president portraying himself as the best leader to rebuild the economy. Trump’s recent rallies have not stuck to that message. Instead, they lean heavily on the president’s own gripes toward Democratic nominee Joe Biden, the media, Democrats or the various investigations into his conduct as president. He often also downplays the coronavirus or disparages his own health officials.

“The problem with his rallies is he gets worked up and doesn’t confine his message,” said Ed Rollins, chair of the pro-Trump Great America PAC. “Beyond the immediate audience, the message that gets carried is usually the most outrageous thing he says.”

Trump is predictably undeterred by these concerns.

On a call with his own campaign staff earlier this week, Trump laid out his rally strategy. He told staffers he intended to do three rallies a day, with five on the final day of the campaign, spread over states like Arizona, New Mexico and Minnesota.

“They say that no human being could do that,” Trump said about the pace.

“Two weeks ago, I was in the hospital and people were shocked that I came out so fast and so healthy, because I came out, and within a day, I held a rally,” he added. “And when people come out of the hospital, they are supposed to be sitting in bed for a long time.”

Indeed, the rallies are intended to demonstrate Trump’s superior fitness after contracting Covid-19 just as much as they are meant to excite his supporters.

And the rallies offer the president his own form of soothing, along with a major ego boost in the middle of a tough campaign, said aides, advisers and allies. Trump feeds off the energy of a crowd regardless of whether the appearance makes the most political sense or can help him make gains against Biden in states like Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia.

“Trump thinks, ‘I have the rallies to prove that I am the greatest. No one can attract crowds like me,’” said Tony Schwartz, the author and Trump critic who ghost wrote “The Art of the Deal” and just published a memoir titled “Dealing with the Devil: My Mother, Trump and Me.” “It is like taking a shot of testosterone to pump himself up, particularly now.”

Federal appeals court won’t lift North Carolina ballot-receipt extension


A bitterly divided federal appeals court has denied an attempt by Republicans to block an agreement by North Carolina state officials allowing absentee ballots in next month’s election to be counted if they are postmarked by Election Day and received up to nine days later.

The Tar Heel State typically counts absentee ballots that arrive up to three days after the election, but last month the State Board of Elections agreed to extend that window to nine days due to the increased ballot requests related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as well concerns about mail delays due to recent Postal Service changes.

In a ruling released Tuesday night, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals voted 12-3 to deny an emergency stay that GOP legislative leaders sought to reimpose the ordinary, three-days-after-Election-Day rule.

The Richmond-based appeals court issued no majority opinion explaining its decision, but backers and opponents of the ruling filed 45 pages of opinions jousting and wrangling over the legal issues, often in a vitriolic tone not commonly seen in such courts.

While many liberals have decried the concerted campaign by President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans to fill the federal appeals courts with conservative appointees, the lineup in Tuesday’s decision contained some surprises.

Although all three dissenters were Republican appointees, the 4th Circuit’s three Trump appointees voted with all the court’s Democratic appointees to deny the relief sought by two North Carolina GOP officials, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore.


The judges in the minority said the extension — backed by a state-court consent decree — threatened “chaos” and deprived the North Carolina legislature of its constitutionally mandated role. The dissenters also issued an unusual plea to Berger and Moore to urgently take the fight to the Supreme Court.

“This case presents a clean opportunity for the Supreme Court to right the abrogation of a clear constitutional mandate and to impart to the federal elections process a strong commitment to the rule of law. Allowing the Board’s changes to go into effect now, two weeks before the election and after half a million people have voted in North Carolina, would cause yet further intolerable chaos,” Judges J. Harvie Wilkinson and Steven Agee wrote in an opinion joined by Judge Paul Niemeyer.

“We urge plaintiffs to take this case up to the Supreme Court immediately. Not tomorrow. Not the next day. Now,” the dissenting judges added.

The dissenters said that, without a clear signal from the Supreme Court, a flood of litigation threatens to mire the upcoming election in confusion. Many of the cases seek to persuade state judges or executive officials to extend ballot deadlines or waive requirements like witness signatures on account of the pandemic.

The dissenting judges argued that those moves usurp the power the Constitution gives to state legislatures to set rules for federal elections in their states.

“Endless suits have been brought to change the election rules set by state legislatures,” the dissenters wrote. “This pervasive jockeying threatens to undermine public confidence in our elections. And the constant court battles make a mockery of the Constitution’s explicit delegation of this power to the state legislatures.”

Two judges in the majority, James Wynn and Diana Motz, accused the dissenters of wildly exaggerating the impact of the ballot-receipt extension at issue and ignoring Supreme Court precedents governing election litigation.

“Reading the dissenting opinion … one might think the sky is falling,” Wynn wrote. “The change is simply an extension from three to nine days after Election Day for a timely ballot to be received and counted. That is all.”

Wynn noted that the North Carolina elections board often intervenes to adjust ballot receipt deadlines, having done so twice for hurricanes in the last two years.

Wynn, an appointee of President Barack Obama, also took aim at the dissenters’ stance by invoking states rights’ rhetoric more often heard from conservatives. He also accused the dissenting judges of twisting a 2006 Supreme Court decision, Purcell v. Gonzalez, that advises federal judges not to make last-minute changes in state election procedures.

“Our colleagues justify federal court intervention — the one thing Purcell clearly counsels against — based on their own notions of what the Supreme Court should have said in Purcell,” Wynn wrote. “We cannot agree with such an expansion of federal court power at the expense of states’ rights to regulate their own elections.To do so would amount to inappropriate judicial activism.”

Wynn also said his dissenting colleagues’ claim that voters would be befuddled by the changes was unfounded in a case about how to treat ballots postmarked by Election Day.

“It is difficult to conceive what chaos our colleagues can possibly be envisioning here,” he wrote. “Voter behavior cannot be impacted by our decision one way or another. … The deadline extension only changes two things: more votes cast by mail will be counted rather than discarded because of mail delays, and fewer voters will have to risk contracting the novel coronavirus by voting in person. Only a grotesquely swollen version of Purcell would consider this ‘voter confusion,’ or in any way harmful.”

On Monday, a deadlocked U.S. Supreme Court let stand a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that extended the ballot-receipt deadline in that state until three days after Election Day. Four GOP-appointed justices would have blocked the order, but Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the high court’s liberals to deny a stay. The result left the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in effect, at least for now.

Many of the legal arguments in the North Carolina case are similar, although its route through the state and federal courts was more byzantine.

The Supreme Court’s deadlock on the election-related issues could be broken as soon as Monday, when the Senate is expected to vote on President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy created by the death last month of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

It is unclear which election-related emergency applications will be pending at the high court if Barrett is sworn in next week and whether she or the broader court will be reluctant to make interventions in the election process with just days to go before the Nov. 3 vote.

An attorney for the North Carolina GOP leaders who unsuccessfully sought intervention from the appeals court, Berger and Moore, did not immediately respond to a message Tuesday night asking if the legislators plan to take up the dissenters’ suggestion of an immediate plea to the Supreme Court.

Trump, in Pennsylvania, faces an old foe: Obama


ERIE, Pa. — For nearly four years, Donald Trump has blamed Barack Obama for everything: for a lack of coronavirus equipment, for an alleged spying operation targeting Trump’s campaign, even for a faulty White House air conditioning system.

And on Tuesday night, Trump, the current president, finally got his chance to face off almost directly with Obama, the former president, in the swing state of Pennsylvania.

For once, he didn't take the bait. Regardless, Trump's presence at the rally in Erie was symbolic, as it represented one of a trio of counties in the state that backed Obama in 2012 before swinging to Trump in 2016. His remarks also came hours before Obama was set to speak on Wednesday at a socially distanced car rally in deep blue Philadelphia.

And while Obama’s upcoming appearance didn’t get a Trump mention Tuesday night, the president has been publicly musing about Obama's event ever since it was revealed the ex-president would be hitting campaign trail for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. During a Friday night rally in Georgia, Trump recalled the moment aides told him Obama would be rallying for Biden, much as he did for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“They said, ‘Sir, we have bad news,’” Trump said recently. “‘What’s the bad news?’ Obama’s going to start campaigning for Sleepy Joe. I said, ‘Is that good or bad? Why is it bad?’ Because he campaigned harder for Hillary than she did. He was very ineffective as a campaigner. … So I think that’s good news.”

Tuesday night, while Trump avoided an Obama mention, he didn’t spare his other enemies during the chilly outdoor rally at the Erie airport. Thousands of supporters bundled up in coats and hats — about half wearing masks — chanted “four more years!” as Trump walked down the steps of Air Force One.

Once Trump took to the podium, he swiftly blasted Biden’s son, Hunter, accusing him of earning millions of dollars in China and Ukraine while his father was vice president — vague allegations that have not been substantiated with concrete evidence. And when Trump’s microphone abruptly cut out, the president quipped that the brief outage was likely caused by "crooked Hillary."

It’s no surprise Trump and Obama are both appearing in Pennsylvania. The northeast state has become critical in the race to claim the White House on Nov. 3. In 2016, Trump became the first Republican to win the state since 1988 when turnout was higher than expected. But recent polls show Biden, who spent part of his childhood in the state, could win it back.



“If we win Pennsylvania, we win the whole thing,” Trump told the crowd Tuesday before mocking Biden for leaving the state and trying to claim Pennsylvania as his own.

“It's not his home state. He left you when he was nine, right? I'm not blaming him for that,” Trump said. “But you know he likes to go, ‘Oh yeah, yeah it's my home state.’ It's not his home state. I actually went to college in Pennsylvania.”

In 2016, some white working class residents who had grown frustrated with the Democratic Party were drawn to Trump by the way he talked about bringing back jobs to the state. But Trump’s promises have not necessarily materialized. While the state added manufacturing jobs in 2017 and early 2018, it has been shedding them since October 2018. And with the pandemic-driven economic decline, the state has 600,000 fewer jobs overall than when Trump took office.

Still, Trump aides and allies say they feel confident the president can win the state a second time, even during the coronavirus pandemic, by touting economic policies like tax cuts and trade deals. On Tuesday night, Trump hit those points. He unveiled a video package on a massive screen behind him meant to make the case that Biden would eliminate fracking — a method for extracting oil and gas used in Pennsylvania — even though Biden has explicitly said he would not take such a step.

“Since 2016, Donald Trump has not changed one bit,” said former Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.). “He is the same person that he was in 2016 when he won Pennsylvania. But the Democrat party has changed since then. Their far shift to the left does not resonate with the Kennedy Democrats that are here in Pennsylvania.”

In his wide-ranging speech, Trump touched on a variety of accomplishments and didn’t shy away from talking about the coronavirus pandemic, telling the crowd that the country was rounding the corner of the pandemic with a vaccine on its way and that Pennsylvania had been shut down long enough.

“You know what we want? Normal life,” he said.

National Republicans boast about their presence in Pennsylvania since 2016, contacting more than 11.5 million voters, holding 4,300 training sessions and holding 5,400 MAGA meet-ups with 50,000 attendees. In the last four years, Republicans have registered more than 200,000 more voters, closing the registration gap with Democrats to 700,000, the lowest margin in two decades.

Yet Democrats recently scored a win in the state on voting rules after the Supreme Court decided not to block a Pennsylvania court ruling allowing mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted even if they arrive up to three days later. Mail-in votes are expected to favor Democrats in the state.

And Biden has also traveled to every media market in Pennsylvania, including areas that Trump won by more than 30 points, according to a Biden campaign official.

“Our strategy hinges on turning out our base voters in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, while also building on Democratic gains with key voters like women and seniors, while also shrinking the margins and winning back voters in places Trump won in 2016,” the official said.

Separately, Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, has visited the Philadelphia suburbs twice in the last month. And Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, visited Philadelphia last month. The campaign has also focused on reaching labor union members, hiring a labor outreach director to try to reach the 700,000 Pennsylvania union members with literature drops and phone banks, the official said.


Yet with Biden laying low in the run-up to his debate Thursday with Trump, the campaign trail in Pennsylvania is essentially Trump vs. Obama.

Trump likes to say Obama didn't want to endorse Biden because Obama “knows he’s mentally shot." But while he largely stayed out of the Democratic presidential primary, Obama has vocally endorsed Biden during the general election, urging voters to support Biden because "our democracy" is at stake.

"He made me a better president," Obama said during his speech at the Democratic National Convention. "He's got the character and the experience to make us a better country."

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, said Obama will be a crucial surrogate for Biden. Obama, Casey said, can explain how he worked with Biden to restore the economy following the 2008 recession, and show how that work will apply to resurrecting the post-pandemic economy.

“No one can validate Joe Biden’s experience and his ability to do the job better than Barack Obama can,” Casey said in an interview Tuesday.

With Obama’s emergence, Trump has stepped up the attacks on his predecessor.

Trump has criticized Obama for joining a nuclear agreement with Iran; for allowing immigrants to cross the southern border illegally; and for entering what he calls unfair trade deals. He’s also made more personal comments accusing Obama of undeservedly winning a Nobel Peace Prize. (Trump has long mused that he should win the award)

And Trump often cites a Gallup poll from this month showing 56 percent of Americans saying they are better off today than they were four years ago, when Obama and Biden were in charge of the country.

Last month, a crowd at Trump's rally in Nevada even chanted "lock him up" after the president baselessly accused Obama of "spying" on the 2016 Trump campaign — a riff on the 2016 Trump rally chant aimed at Clinton.

Judge tosses lawsuit challenging DeVos’ sexual misconduct rule for schools, colleges


A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union that aimed to block Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ rule dictating how colleges and K-12 schools must respond to reports of sexual misconduct.

Judge Richard D. Bennett sided with DeVos and the Education Department, ruling that the four plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit lack standing to sue. Bennett said the advocacy group leading the lawsuit, Know Your IX, “has not adequately alleged facts to establish its standing to bring this action."

The judge also cited a ruling from SurvJustice Inc. v. DeVos, a lawsuit that failed in challenging DeVos’ temporary Title IX guidelines, to back his decision.

Background: The ruling comes as a major victory for DeVos, whose Title IX policies will be a key part of her legacy as secretary. She has said the rule officially codifies protections to hold schools accountable by ensuring survivors are not brushed aside and no student’s guilt is predetermined.

The ACLU had charged that DeVos’ Title IX rule, which took effect in August, violated the Administrative Procedure Act because the provisions “were arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion.” The lawsuit had sought to vacate the rule.

On behalf of four plaintiffs, the ACLU argued that the rule will reduce the number of sexual assault and harassment complaints requiring a response from schools.

The lawsuit took aim at the rule's definition of sexual harassment, as well as provisions that allow institutions to use a “clear and convincing evidence standard.” The groups that brought the lawsuit also take issue with the fact that DeVos' rule only holds institutions accountable under Title IX for “deliberate indifference" and only requires a school or school official to respond to sexual harassment if there is “actual knowledge.”

Other legal challenges: The lawsuit was one of four ongoing cases challenging the Title IX rule. The other three are still pending but have been largely unsuccessful. All argue that the Education Department violated the law with its new rule by acting beyond its authority, and that the rule is arbitrary and capricious.

A circuit court judge in the District of Columbia denied a request from attorneys general in 17 states and the District of Columbia to stop the new rule and to block it as legal action continues. Another judge also denied a motion to block the rule from taking effect in New York while the litigation is ongoing. Southern District of New York Judge John G. Koeltl said state officials failed to show they are likely to win in their argument that the Trump administration acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when it finalized its rule.

Why breaking up (Google) is so hard to do


The Justice Department's suit against Google marks the first time in more than 20 years that the government is looking at splitting up a company for quashing competition. And if the judge decides that Google is an illegal monopoly, the case could be the first time in more than 100 years that a court actually orders a company breakup.

But there’s a reason why the government hasn’t forced a company to break up since 1911: Antitrust cases require judges to make complicated predictions about the future and they're often afraid of making things worse.

“Historically courts have seen [breakups] as intimidating,” said William Kovacic, who served as Federal Trade Commission chairman under President George W. Bush. “They are being asked to perform surgery and they want confidence the surgery is not going to kill the patient. They want assurances that a break-up will make things better and not worse.”

DOJ’s complaint does not say exactly what fixes the administration will pursue, but it mentions "structural relief" — a remedy that could include separating business lines or selling off parts of its operations. If Google has to put parts of its business on the market, that would be the nation’s biggest breakup of a corporate giant on antitrust grounds since AT&T was dismembered in the 1980s as part of a negotiated settlement.

“Everybody from legislators to the antitrust leaders on both sides of the political spectrum have tended to view break ups as a radical remedy,” Rory Van Loo, an antitrust law professor at Boston. “The idea of the government coming in and breaking up a company is seen as some extreme violation of autonomy.”

Van Loo and other antitrust experts, though, said splitting up companies isn't as radical as some suggest. Both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission frequently require companies to sell off pieces before approving mergers.

In 2017, for example, the U.S. and European antitrust authorities required Dow and DuPont, two of the world’s largest agriculture and chemical giants, to sell off more than $100 million in assets. The pair are in the process of splitting into three firms that will focus on agriculture, plastics and specialty products.


“The agencies have had a huge amount of experience with divestitures in merger cases,” said Kovacic, now a professor of antitrust law at George Washington University and a director of the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority. Breakups “should not be seen as a dangerous or intimidating remedy.”

Still antitrust cases where a company accused of anti-competitive conduct is split up tend to be rare. In 1911, the Supreme Court ordered John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil broken up into 34 pieces. Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP and Marathon Petroleum can all trace their corporate history back to that breakup.

The other major U.S. antitrust case that led to a split involved Bell Telephone, which reached an agreement with the Justice Department in 1982 to divide into seven regional firms, often referred to as the “Baby Bells.” Today’s AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink are descendants of those companies. AT&T agreed to the breakup in exchange for the DOJ lifting restrictions imposed during earlier antitrust battles that prevented the telecom company from expanding outside the telephone industry, including into computers.

The Justice Department originally sought to split up Microsoft as part of the antitrust suit in the 1990s, and a trial court agreed, ordering the company split into "Baby Bills" focused on the Windows operating systems, software applications and internet and e-commerce. That decision was overturned on appeal, and Microsoft eventually agreed to a settlement that imposed conditions on the company without any requiring any parts be sold off.

Michelle Meagher, senior policy fellow at the University College London and co-founder of the Inclusive Competition Forum, said regulators and courts should push back on the idea that there exists a “divine right to operate a company.”

“We should really question whether any company has a right to exist in its current form,” said Meagher, whose recent book explores how to use antitrust and corporate law to rein in big companies. “They are given the privilege to incorporate and that’s for the public interest. If you are not serving the public interest, you should be subject to some kind of regulation.”

Today, the corporate world abounds with experts on restructuring companies, both Van Loo and Kovacic noted. Last year, accounting firm EY found that 84 percent of companies it consulted for its annual report on corporate strategy planned to sell off some part of their business in the next two years. Most of the executives surveyed said those self-imposed divestitures would help streamline operations at the company and reinvest in growth areas.

Van Loo, who worked as a McKinsey consultant and a DOJ antitrust prosecutor before moving to academia, pointed out that the alternatives to a breakup also have downsides. In the Microsoft case, the company agreed to a settlement that included changes to its business practices and software to make it easier for rivals to compete and for users to use alternative products. The Windows-maker’s settlement, approved in 2002, was overseen by a committee of independent experts and would be extended several times before it finally expired in 2011.

In the EU, where the competition authority also investigated Microsoft, the company would pay an initial 497 million euro fine, and then additional fines totalling 1.2 billion euros for failing to fully comply with the EU's orders.

Without a breakup, “you need to impose on this company an enduring monitor or restraint on a large company that’s continually changing and innovating,” Van Loo said. “That just creates more of a mess in the medium-term to long-term than a break up might.”


MAGA world, GOP unite on social-media bias after Hunter Biden story


MAGA world is uniting with mainstream conservatives to whip up a frenzy over social-media bias in the final weeks of the election, convinced that the handling of a New York Post story about Hunter Biden has presented a validating example of years-old MAGA complaints.

Twitter and Facebook’s attempts to limit sharing of the Post story, citing policies meant to throttle the distribution of hacked materials and fact-challenged articles, is being used as proof positive in MAGA world that social media firms have a liberal agenda, and are using whatever means necessary to censor conservatives and protect liberals. And Republicans across the ideological spectrum are agreeing.

The incident has fueled Republican plans to vote on subpoenas that would force testimony from the CEOs of both Twitter and Facebook on the issue. That hearing would come on top of another one already planned for next Wednesday, when Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will face a grilling over liability protections the tech industry enjoys for content posted on their platforms. Other Republican lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have signaled shifts in how they wanted to regulate social-media platforms. And at the White House, chief of staff Mark Meadows has threatened to sue the two companies over the issue.

The flurry of activity caps a summer of anti-Big Tech maneuvering among conservatives, from anger over Twitter’s decision to post disclaimers on President Donald Trump’s tweets, to Attorney General Bill Barr’s rush to file an antitrust case against Google just two weeks before the election.

But now, in a matter of days, the handling of a single New York Post story has pushed long-simmering MAGA complaints about social-media bias to the top of Republicans’ talking points.

“They proved that all the lunatic ravings of the right were correct, and that there's no objectivity [on social media platforms] whatsoever,” said Ron Coleman, a prominent conservative lawyer known for his work on tech censorship and free speech issues.

For nearly a decade, conservatives have accused social media companies of deliberately silencing them through a variety of subtle means — claiming their videos don’t always show up on their subscribers’ Facebook feeds, or that their accounts don’t show up in searches or that the platforms inappropriately label their content as promoting violence or misinformation. Researchers say such claims have never proven any intentional discrimination and note that some of the most widely shared content on social media platforms comes from conservative voices and outlets.


And notably, efforts to limit distribution of the Post story have not prevented the piece from circulating broadly on social media. The report generated 2.59 million interactions on Facebook and Twitter last week, more than double the next biggest story about Trump or Biden, even as national security specialists warned the information bore the hallmarks of a Russian disinformation campaign.

Still, anti-social media conservatives felt the handling of the story offered them a concrete, game-changing example of the type of silencing they have long claimed.

“The Rubicon was crossed [last] week, for sure,” said Rachel Bovard, a senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute, who focuses on social media and free speech issues.

Years ago, the issue of internet free speech was popular among the more populist wing of the conservative movement — specifically, people and publications that drew influence from an online presence, and that were more likely to be targeted for violating platforms’ terms of service by sharing inflammatory content.

Throughout Trump’s presidency, Republicans have increasingly paid lip service to this constituency, echoing the complaints in hearings.

And Trump himself has repeatedly used his presidential platform to bemoan social-media companies’ behavior, hosting events about conservative censorship at the White House and signing a legally toothless executive order. As the November election neared, the White House pressured key Senate Republicans to hold hearings on alleged bias.

On Capitol Hill, competing Republican bills have appeared that would drastically revise Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which stipulated that digital platforms were not legally liable for content others had uploaded.

“The objection for some on the right always was, ‘Well, these platforms don't engage in viewpoint censorship, they're not politically biased, this all a crock of crap,’” Bovard said.

But now, the handling of the Post story — which offered unverified emails claiming Hunter Biden had arranged a meeting between his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, and a Ukrainian business contact — has pushed more of the GOP into MAGA’s anti-social media camp. The timing (days before the election) and subject (Biden’s alleged corruption) likely helped. Some Republicans, such as McCarthy, started calling for the repeal of Section 230, while others wondered whether Twitter had taken on even more responsibilities other than simple bias.

“Is Twitter an ‘in kind donor’ to the Biden campaign? A ‘publisher?’” tweeted Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie last Thursday.


Trump was more insistent.

“If Big Tech persists, in coordination with the mainstream media, we must immediately strip them of their Section 230 protections,” he tweeted Friday. “When government granted these protections, they created a monster!”

Shoshana Weissmann, a fellow at the free market-oriented R Street Institute focused on Section 230 and licensing reform, sees the current outrage on Capitol Hill as far more political than policy focused. She argued that there are valid reasons for Section 230 to exist, saying digital platforms aren’t capable of policing all posts.

“If I threaten the president online, then Twitter’s not liable for that,” she said. “It would be me liable for that, or whoever made the threat or did something illegal online is liable for it. And it makes sense because there's billions and billions of posts.”

And repealing Section 230 wouldn’t actually assuage conservative complaints, Weissmann insisted.

“It wouldn't fix the partisan moderating,” she said. “These things are totally unrelated. It's just kind of punishing them, because they're there.”

Regardless of the policy implications, however, the handling of the Post story has played right into the hands of MAGA’s political arguments. Coleman, a prominent legal voice in the anti-social media world, said he was surprised at how Twitter and Facebook handled the story.

“For the people who control so much of the media complex now, and who understand so well what virality is about, they completely failed to make any accounting whatsoever for the Streisand effect,” he said, referencing the phenomenon where an attempt to hide something actually draws it greater attention.

Where Texas Could Actually Turn Blue in 2020


ALLEN, Texas — In a wealthy subdivision north of Dallas, with two-story brick houses tucked close together, Texas state Rep. Jeff Leach pauses beside his black pickup truck to scroll through a voter roll app on his phone.

Leach is a Republican, and just a couple of elections ago, he wouldn’t have had to campaign here at all. In 2016, he beat his Democratic challenger by nearly 17 percentage points. When he first ran for office in 2012, he didn’t even have an opponent.

But two years ago, Leach nearly lost his seat, and this year there is a good chance a Democrat could replace him. The app telling him which house to visit, used by Republican candidates across the country, says this is exactly the type of swing suburban neighborhood Leach needs to win if he’s going to stay in office.

“2018 was a wake-up call for Republicans,” he says.



Leach and his volunteer team are aiming to knock on more than 2,000 doors on this sunny, crisp Saturday in October, 30 days before Election Day. He skips the houses with Trump yard signs and any that the app tells him regularly vote Republican. He wants to reach more moderate voters.

The doors he knocks on are rarely answered; he leaves a door hanger and a handwritten Post-it note with his cell phone number. Finally, after about 30 minutes, someone answers. Leach introduces himself, and the man at the door asks: “Are you a Republican or a Democrat?” When Leach replies that he is a Republican, the Allen resident slams the door shut saying, “I’m a Democrat.”

Leach’s district in Collin County — about a 30 minute drive from Dallas and stretching less than 15 miles top to bottom — is emblematic of a broader shift underway in Texas politics. Over the past decade or so, new residents from across Texas, California and other states, drawn by jobs, good schools and low housing costs, have transformed this largely rural, reliably Republican district into a suburban, unpredictable one. “It’s a diverse community. The representation has not kept up with that,” says Lorenzo Sanchez, Leach’s Democratic opponent this year.

Texas Democrats have talked about flipping the state for so long, and failed so many times, that it’s easy to be skeptical of their ambitions. But after years of disappointing losses in statewide races, they believe they have an achievable, if narrower, target this November: For the first time in nearly two decades, Democrats think they can win a majority in the Texas state House.



This is not a story about Texas as a whole turning blue on Nov. 3. The state’s Republican governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general are not up for reelection this year. Republican Sen. John Cornyn maintains a lead, though a narrowing one, over his Democratic challenger, MJ Hegar. The Texas congressional delegation will still be majority-Republican even if Democrats pick up a few seats. The state Senate will remain majority-Republican when the legislature convenes in January. President Donald Trump is also leading Democratic nominee Joe Biden in Texas, though by slim margins.

But in Texas, a blue state House would be a shocker all by itself. The “lege” is a creature of its own in American politics, a deep-red institution that only meets for 140 days on alternate years, and reliably gets caught up in national culture-war issues — stricter and stricter abortion rules, looser and looser gun limits, an anti-transgender rights bathroom bill in 2017 — that are less and less reflective of the state overall. And beyond the symbolic value, control of the state House would give Democrats a say in next year’s redistricting process, in turn laying the groundwork for future gains in Congress. And that looks ahead to an even bigger prize: The battle for the state House might end up being the first step in the Democratic Party’s long-term goal of flipping the nation’s third most populous state.

How close are they? Democrats picked up 12 state House seats in 2018, putting them just nine seats away from controlling the chamber. The state party is targeting 22 state House seats this year, about half of which are in Dallas and its surrounding areas. In nine of those 22 seats, Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke outperformed Republican Ted Cruz in 2018 — a sign that there are likely left-leaning votes waiting to be won.



Texas Democrats have been betting for years that changing demographics would turn the tide and give them more seats. This year, they also hope to benefit from a rupture on the right. An ongoing spat between far-right Republicans and moderates has brought down Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, led to firebrand conservative Allen West being elected chair of the state Republican party and created a rift over state leaders’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Trump’s growing unpopularity in Texas, especially in places like Collin County, is even dragging down candidates like Cornyn who were once secure in their seats.

And Texas Democrats now have a lot of money — way more than they’ve had in years. The Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee raised more than $3.6 million from July to September — more than double the $1.5 million it raised in the first six months of the year and more than the $1.3 million raised in all of 2018, according to campaign filings. The national party, after years of being accused of ignoring statehouse races, also is pouring cash into Texas. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee is spending $1.1 million on digital ads on Texas state House races. Forward Majority, a national Democratic super PAC, said it will spend more than $12 million on Texas state House races this year, including on ads for Lorenzo Sanchez — up from $2.5 million last cycle.

“Winning the Texas state House this year is key for future power in America,” says Vicky Hausman, co-founder and co-CEO of Forward Majority. “Republicans have long understood that roots of power lie in the statehouse.”



At the same time, this year, Republicans like Jeff Leach will not be caught off guard.


Conservatism runs deep in Texas. It’s been 18 years since Democrats controlled the state House and 26 years since Texas has elected a Democrat to statewide office. Since George W. Bush became governor in 1998, the state has only moved farther to the right. Texas is one of only a dozen states that has yet to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and it is leading a lawsuit to overturn the federal health law.

With their control of the statehouse, Republican lawmakers have targeted abortion rights, passed one of the harshest immigration enforcement regimes in the country and held a special session to debate a bill that would require people to use the bathroom for the gender listed on their birth certificates. Republican legislators backed down from that bill only in the face of strong business opposition. The state’s GOP leadership hasn’t called a special session to convene during the pandemic, even as more than 17,000 Texans have died of Covid-19.

Faced with a growing minority population, state lawmakers also enacted strict voter ID laws and drew maps in Republicans’ favor during the 2011 redistricting process. Two years later, Texas lawmakers were forced to redraw those maps after federal judges found them to be unconstitutional because they discriminated against minorities. The Supreme Court upheld the current maps two years ago, and, as a result, for many years the only really competitive races in many Texas House districts were Republican primaries.

But Texas has added more than 4 million people in the past decade, with the state’s share of Hispanics and Asian Americans growing rapidly. Much of that growth has taken place in and around the state’s big cities — Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio — making a historically rural state increasingly urban and suburban.

Texas’ new residents are not necessarily Democrats. In fact, they don’t necessarily vote at all. But they give Democrats new people to try to win over. O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate campaign, which generated massive enthusiasm and funds, showed Democrats the potential well of support across the state. More than 2 million Texans voted in this year’s Democratic primary, up from 1.4 million in 2016. And so far this year, more than 4.6 million Texans have already voted early in-person or by mail.

After he dropped out of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, O’Rourke started a political action committee, called Powered by People, to raise money and manpower for Texas Democratic candidates. O’Rourke, who takes part in the group’s phone banks, admits that calling voters isn’t as effective as knocking on doors, which the group had put on hold because of Covid-19. But when people do answer, he says he makes sure to talk up the local statehouse candidate.

“The most gratifying ones are people who say, ‘I didn’t pay attention to this race,’” he said in a recent interview. “A lot of voters in 2018 didn’t go all the way down the ballot.”


On a Saturday in early October, the same day Leach was door-knocking, his opponent, Sanchez, spent the morning at an office parking lot in Richardson, just outside his district, with other Dallas-area Democratic candidates. It was a pandemic version of a meet-and-greet: People drove by in their cars to pick up yard signs and chat with candidates through their rolled-down windows.

Sanchez isn’t happy that his campaign largely has been limited to Zoom events and phone banks. “It’s hard for me not to be out and about right now,” he says. He recently scrapped plans to start knocking on doors again in the final few weeks before the election.

This is the first time that Sanchez, a Mexican American real estate agent, has run for office. He is soft-spoken and earnest, not the prototype of a Texas politician. Still, he placed second in the March primary and eked out a win in the runoff, which was delayed until July because of the coronavirus. Sanchez, who is gay, says his parents spoke Spanish at home and that he didn’t learn English until he started attending public schools. He was 12 when his family moved from the Midwest to Plano, in the district he now hopes to represent. After attending college in Chicago and working briefly in Denver, he settled back in the district in 2018, when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. He launched his campaign in July 2019.

“I don’t think I ever thought I would ever go and get involved in politics,” he admits. “I’m doing this for the people I care about who have been getting the short end of the stick for too long.”

Sanchez’s campaign looks bootstrapped. He posts selfie videos of himself chatting and driving. His nieces, one with epilepsy, make cameos in other videos. He jokes about his roommate, Liz, feeding him. Yet while Leach maintains an overall fundraising lead of about $200,000, Sanchez raised $693,000 between July 5 and Sept. 24, surpassing the $532,000 Leach raised in about the same period.



That’s a major change from 2018, when Democratic candidates were far outspent by their Republican rivals. Two years ago, Brandy Chambers lost to Republican incumbent Angie Chen Button by 1,110 votes in a Dallas County state House district. This time around, Chambers is running against Button with about $800,000, or more than triple the funds she had two years ago. Chambers told me that in 2018 Democratic donors were in denial that some of these races were winnable. But she saw O’Rourke’s near win as a sign that voters would come out of the woodwork if Democratic candidates actually challenged the incumbents.

“It was extremely difficult for me to get any support in 2018 because no one believed this district was winnable,” says Chambers, an employment lawyer in Dallas. “If we stop accepting defeat, maybe we will actually win. Resources have started coming into all of these races. It’s no longer a losing game.”

Hausman, of Forward Majority, says national Democrats are waking up to the idea that they need to invest in local races to build the party’s bench, gain support for candidates farther up the ballot and change state policy. But she criticizes the party for continuing to overinvest in high-profile, long-shot races, pointing to the millions of dollars that have gone into Amy McGrath’s bid to unseat Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell. “That is, in many ways, a market failure on the Democratic side,” Hausman says.

Sanchez has been reaching out to local temples, mosques and other minority groups, and his campaign wants to ensure that the county’s newest residents go the polls and make the effort to vote for state representative. He is also hoping to pick up voters who are disillusioned by Trump.


Later that Saturday afternoon, Kathryn Vargas stepped into the Friend & Foe Board Game Café for a Sanchez campaign event in Plano. She wore a Black Lives Matter mask, while her 6-year-old son, Asher, wore a Mario one. They were there to get candy, part of an event organized by a North Texas Democratic women’s group and called “Taste the Blue Wave Road Rally.” At each stop, people picked up free snacks and met Democratic candidates and volunteers, many of them wearing shirts picturing a fork skewering a red elephant. Sanchez spent the afternoon at the café meeting supporters and juggling Zoom events with his phone tripod wedged between two board games.

Vargas says she voted for an independent candidate for president in 2016, a decision she now regrets. “I’m a recovering Republican,” she says. “I felt a lot of guilt.” Vargas, who is white, is married to a Mexican American man, a firefighter. She says last year’s mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart prompted her political change of heart. The shooter is from Allen, graduated from Plano public schools and admitted to officers that he was targeting Mexicans.

“We are coming from the community of the El Paso shooter, who drove 600 miles to kill 23 people who look like my husband and two boys,” Vargas said, while Asher clung to her leg with one hand and two paper cups of candy in the other. Her husband and 19-month old son were waiting in the car. “El Paso changed everything,” says Vargas, who wants state lawmakers to pass gun restrictions.

Sanchez chooses his words carefully on the issue of guns, knowing that he needs centrist voters. He is for universal background checks and other measures to limit the availability of guns, but he is also quick to point out that he supports the Second Amendment. He wants to counter the image Republicans have conjured in campaign ads that he is a radical, far-left liberal who supports abolishing police departments and guns.

“People understand me, that I am not something to be afraid of,” he says.


Polling for these races is scant, but even with the left’s momentum, there are plenty of reasons Sanchez and other well-funded, well-organized Democrats could lose. Not long ago, Democrats pinned their hopes on Wendy Davis beating Greg Abbott in the governor’s race in 2014, and she lost by more than 20 points. And despite O’Rourke’s popularity, he is now back home in El Paso, while Ted Cruz is a senator in Washington.

In a private video call with lobbyists in September, Republican strategist Dave Carney, who advises Abbott, said he believes Democrats are overplaying their hand and that the state House will remain Republican, according to two people who were on the call. Asked about the conversation, Carney told me in a text message that he had told the lobbyists “the Democrat spin was bullshit” and “we would hold the house.” Texas Republicans point to a special election in January in a fast-growing Houston suburb as evidence that their bravado is justified: Republican Gary Gates beat his Democratic challenger, Eliz Markowitz, by 16 percentage points. The two are facing off again in November.

“This is exactly the type of district that [Democrats] need to win,” says Craig Murphy, a consultant for Angie Chen Button. “It was a wipeout for them.”



Still, there’s no doubt that Democratic efforts are putting Republicans on the defensive. Gates had to lend his campaign $1.5 million to keep up with Markowitz’s fundraising efforts. Overall, Democrats in competitive state House races have raised $9.5 million from July 1 to Sept. 24, compared with $3.1 million in the same period in 2018, according to Christopher Tackett, who tracks campaign financing in Texas. Republicans in competitive races raised $10.3 million over that period in 2020, compared with $5.6 million two years ago.

The pressure has already forced policy changes, too. During the 2019 legislative session, chastened by the previous year’s election losses, Republicans focused on property taxes and education reform, largely eschewing controversial social legislation.

As he tries to hold onto his seat, Leach has sought to temper his own image as a conservative hardliner and distance himself from both Trump and state party scandals. Last year, as a committee chair, he blocked a bill that would have allowed women who sought abortions to be charged with homicide — a bill he had co-authored in 2017. He left the far-right Freedom Caucus in 2018, and he says he has changed his mind about the bathroom bill, which he also supported in 2017. One of his campaign ads calls attention to his efforts on criminal justice reform, and features a Democrat exonerated after spending 13 years in prison saying he plans to vote for Leach.

“I don’t pay a lot of attention to what’s happening in Austin or Washington,” says Leach, a lawyer who specializes in commercial and civil litigation, construction law and real estate. “We are confident we have served this district well. This is a local race.”

Other Texas Republicans in tight races are also moderating their positions. Button told The Dallas Morning News that because of the pandemic she would support a version of Medicaid expansion, despite voting against the policy in previous sessions. Button declined to comment for this story, but Murphy, her consultant, maintains that she has always maintained a “complicated position on the issue.”



One challenge for Texas Democrats this year will be getting voters to turn, or scroll, several pages in their ballots to vote for their state representative. This is the first year Texas will not have straight-ticket voting, which previously allowed a voter to cast a ballot for all candidates from one party with a single check mark or button. The change might encourage voters to be more independent in their selections, but it also could help Texas Republicans hoping to distinguish themselves from a president who is more unpopular in the state than previous Republican presidents.

“The straight ticket gets you all the upside and none of the downside with President Trump,” says state Rep. Jim Murphy, vice chair of the Texas House Republican Caucus.

Democrats hope any gains they make in Texas this year aren’t just a short-lived Trump bump. If they can pick up nine seats or even come close, they will be able to influence the race for next Texas House speaker and pick up important committee chair positions, which could have downstream effects. If nothing else, some observers believe the momentum Democrats have generated shows the state is worth the fight.

Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, argues that this election won’t sweep in a Democratic revolution in Texas, but that changes are taking place in the state and in the national mood. (Wendy Davis is running again, this time for Congress against freshman Chip Roy, and polling has put them in a dead heat.)

“The idea of Texas turning blue is stupid,” Henson says. “The more realistic version that emerges is that Texas becomes a more competitive state like Florida. … The new steady state becomes an unsteady balance of power.”

White House looks at cutting Covid funds, newborn screenings in ‘anarchist’ cities


The White House is considering slashing millions of dollars for coronavirus relief, HIV treatment, screenings for newborns and other programs in Democratic-led cities that President Donald Trump has deemed “anarchist jurisdictions,” according to documents obtained by POLITICO.

New York, Portland, Ore., Washington, D.C., and Seattle could lose funding for a wide swath of programs that serve their poorest, sickest residents after the president moved last month to restrict funding, escalating his political battle against liberal cities he’s sought to use as a campaign foil.

The Department of Health and Human Services has identified federal grants covering those services, which are among the nearly 200 health programs that could be in line for cuts as part of a sweeping government-wide directive the administration is advancing during the final weeks of the presidential campaign and amid an intensifying pandemic Trump has downplayed.

Trump in a Sept. 2 order called on federal agencies to curtail funding to jurisdictions that “disempower” police departments and promote “lawlessness.” The memo argued that the cities haven’t done enough to quash riots stemming from this summer’s protests over systemic racism and police violence.

The HHS list offers the most detailed picture yet of the administration’s efforts to quickly comply with the Trump directive and the potentially large cuts facing these cities even as the pandemic strains local budgets. It isn’t immediately clear what criteria the budget office will use to evaluate the grants — or how or when cuts may be made.

But while the White House pores over existing funds, at least one department has already moved to implement Trump’s directive for new funding. The Department of Transportation earlier this month said Trump’s “anarchy” memo would factor into the department’s review of applications for a new $10 million grant program supporting Covid-19 safety measures.

"My Administration will do everything in its power to prevent weak mayors and lawless cities from taking Federal dollars while they let anarchists harm people, burn buildings, and ruin lives and businesses,” Trump tweeted shortly after releasing the Sept. 2 defunding memo.

Almost three weeks later, Attorney General Bill Barr labeled New York City, Portland and Seattle as “anarchist jurisdictions.” The White House budget office also instructed departments to also scrutinize funding for Washington, D.C.

The HHS list, which was sent Friday to the White House budget office, represents the 1,500-plus funding awards that have gone to the four cities since 2018. Each federal department also faced a Friday deadline to submit their own lists to the Office of Management and Budget, which will make the final decisions about funding.

HHS compiled the list with input from at least 12 agencies it oversees. The list includes 185 programs that touch on everything from Trump’s own initiative to end HIV transmission by the end of the decade to the opioid crisis and research into lung diseases. The list also includes funding for other programs, like $423,000 for universal hearing screenings for newborns in the District of Columbia, housing for people in addiction recovery in Seattle, and services providing nutrition and mental health counseling to elderly New Yorkers.

A spokesperson for HHS declined to comment. OMB declined to comment on the details of the review while pointing to two agency memos issued last month.

The White House budget office has previously said the administration will use the data to determine whether to bar cities from being eligible for new federal cash. A senior administration official did not rule out the possibility that cities could lose their existing funds.

“As the data comes in, OMB will collect it and make a decision,” said the official, who requested anonymity. The review is in the preliminary stages, and the official said the administration will make decisions about each grant individually.

“We need to review the information with agencies before we know,” according to the official. “Grant programs all have different authorities so it’s going to be case by case.”

According to OMB’s own guidelines, just a small fraction of the grants flagged by HHS may be protected from cuts. A Sept. 21 memo from OMB Director Russ Vought instructed agencies to assess whether grants supported law enforcement activities, indicating those would be less vulnerable to elimination. “[S]uch programs and activities, when properly designed and implemented, can help prevent the deterioration of municipalities into lawless zones,” Vought wrote.

HHS identified that just six of the 185 grant programs directly or indirectly have a connection to law enforcement, including some public health measures, hospital emergency preparedness and child support enforcement.

Programs that don’t meet the law enforcement exception include a two-year $4.6 million grant to D.C.’s Department of Health Care Finance that funds addiction treatment and recovery services through next September. Another includes $850,000 through 2025 to King County, which includes Seattle, to support the HIV initiative Trump announced at his State of the Union address last year.

A $1.8 million grant for Oregon’s Multnomah County, which includes Portland, and a $880,000 grant to King County, both to help community and migrant health centers care for Covid-19 patients, are also under review.

Public health advocates and city officials panned the administration's review, warning that the consequences of pulling funding from these cities — especially during the pandemic — could be dire.

“The bottom line is there's no extra money lying around, and this is not a time to be playing politics with people’s health,” said Chrissie Juliano, executive director of the Big Cities Health Coalition, a national group that represents health departments in major U.S. cities — including the four targeted by Trump.

Officials from New York City and Seattle — as well as the United States Conference of Mayors — have already threatened legal action if the administration moves to block funds.

“This is nothing more than political retribution,” said Laura Feyer, a spokesperson for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Caitlin Emma contributed to this report.

Trump ends ’60 Minutes’ interview, attacks Lesley Stahl on Twitter


At the White House on Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump ended a fiery interview taping with CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” proceeded to launch an attack against the interviewer on Twitter for not wearing a mask, and threatened to post the interview before it aired.

The drama unfolded after Trump was frustrated with the line of questioning and how the interview was being conducted, said one person familiar with the episode, while another in the room described the president as “pissed.”

The president spent more than 40 minutes with CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl, and did not proceed to shoot a second portion of the interview that included Vice President Mike Pence. Following a short break, the president decided he had spent enough time in the interview, one White House official said.

The official described Stahl as “very antagonistic,” and said she “seemed ill prepared in a wide-ranging interview.”

The president was expected to shoot part of the interview with Pence, who went on to spend 15 minutes with Stahl and the “60 Minutes” crew.

After the interview, the president tweeted a video of Stahl speaking to producers inside the White House without a mask accompanied by the message: “Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes not wearing a mask in the White House after her interview with me. Much more to come.”

“This is moments after she criticized me for not wearing a mask while working at my desk,” tweeted assistant White House press secretary Karoline Leavitt. “Rules for thee but not for me, Lesley?”

Both Stahl and Trump were hospitalized with the coronavirus, and Leavitt was one of the press staff who contracted the virus in early October.

Another person familiar with the interview said of the video clip: “This image is from immediately following the interview with the CBS team, who had all been tested. Lesley had a mask on leading into the interviews, as appropriate.”

On Tuesday evening, just before leaving the White House for a campaign rally in Pennsylvania, the president implied that the “60 Minutes” broadcast would not reflect what actually happened in the interview.

“I am pleased to inform you that, for the sake of accuracy in reporting, I am considering posting my interview with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes, PRIOR TO AIRTIME!” Trump wrote on Twitter. “This will be done so that everybody can get a glimpse of what a FAKE and BIASED interview is all about…”

“...Everyone should compare this terrible Electoral Intrusion with the recent interviews of Sleepy Joe Biden!” he concluded.

The president also taped a town hall in the Rose Garden on Tuesday with former Fox News host Eric Bolling that is airing on the Sinclair Broadcasting Network.

CBS News did not respond to a request for comment on the interview’s abrupt conclusion, which was first reported by CNN.

“60 Minutes” plans to broadcast the interview on Sunday night in a special that will also feature Joe Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris.

Senate Dems agonize over embattled Feinstein


Chuck Schumer refused to defend Sen. Dianne Feinstein over calls from progressive groups for her removal as top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, with the Senate minority leader divulging he had a “long and serious talk” recently with the California senator.

Senate Democrats are grappling with how to handle Feinstein’s future role on the panel. Liberal groups say Feinstein was far too accommodating to Republicans during last week’s confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. And while Democrats tread carefully in public on Tuesday, refusing to criticize the 87-year-old Feinstein — the first woman to serve as ranking member on Judiciary — her loudest supporters were actually Republicans.

Democrats mostly refused to comment on the controversy, with some praising Feinstein’s long record of service but few touting her performance last week. The Barrett proceedings ended with Feinstein praising Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and then hugging him. She called the Barrett hearings “one of the best sets of hearings that I’ve participated in,” a comment that drew waves of angry criticism from the left.

NARAL, Demand Justice and an array of liberal organizations dinged Feinstein for being far too deferential to Barrett, claiming she essentially helped Senate Republicans stack the Supreme Court with another ideologue who will solidify the conservative majority on the high court for years to come. NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue said Feinstein “offered an appearance of credibility to the proceedings that is wildly out of step with the American people.”

In a brief interview, Feinstein said she had “no comment” about the groups calling for her to step down. Feinstein waved away a question about whether she would run again for the top Democratic slot on the Judiciary Committee during the next Congress.

The normally voluble Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who could be in line for the position if Feinstein stepped down, was uncharacteristically terse about calls for her to be demoted.

“You keep asking me that question. I’m not going to answer it,” he said on Tuesday.

The Democratic Party is highly unlikely to overtly force Feinstein to step down. Several Democratic sources said that if she did leave the top slot of the Judiciary Committee it would be of her own accord.

And in response to questions about whether Feinstein should be replaced atop the panel, Schumer was tight-lipped about Feinstein.

“I’ve had a long and serious talk with Sen. Feinstein,” Schumer said on Tuesday. “That’s all I’m going to say about it right now.

Many other Democrats also declined to comment on Feinstein, from progressive Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). Those that did speak out said the decision on Feinstein’s future isn’t up to them.

“She is the ranking member, and so far as I know standing here right now, she’ll continue to be ranking member,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Judiciary Committee. “Sen. Schumer is the leader of our caucus and he’s the one who decides. She has contributed through her public service and I value her leadership and friendship.”

“Sen. Feinstein has a long record of fighting for gender equality and reproductive rights, and [she] has led the minority on the committee well,” added Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who also serves on the Judiciary Committee. When asked whether Feinstein should be replaced atop the panel, Coons demurred: “I don’t think that’s for me to say.”

Feinstein was the first Senate Democrat to endorse Joe Biden, even before he got in the race to be president. Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Biden, said: "Vice President Biden's appreciation for her support is only exceeded by his respect and admiration for her strong record of public service to the people of California and the nation.”

Feinstein still enjoys close relationships in the GOP and Republicans emerged this week as Feinstein’s most outspoken advocates. They claim the anger from the left at Feinstein is misguided and shows that Democrats’ attacks on Barrett’s conduct and qualifications during the hearing failed to land.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) lamented that it “would be a real shame if they run her off.”

“She’s such an outstanding legislator, it’s totally unjustified,” said fellow octogenarian Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a former Judiciary Committee chairman. “She’s only three months older than I am, and I haven’t announced I’m not running for reelection.”

“I’m not sure it would be terribly helpful to Dianne if I said something nice about her,” acknowledged Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who serves on the Judiciary Committee. “The left-wing attacks on Sen. Feinstein are a product of the frustration on the far left that their attacks [on Barrett] aren’t working and their arguments aren’t resonating.”

Feinstein would take over as chair of the Judiciary panel in the next Congress if Democrats win the majority on Election Day, which looks increasingly possible. Feinstein has not stated whether she will fight her critics and try to keep her spot or whether she will give up the role. After Durbin, who would be unlikely to lead the panel if he stays on as whip, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) is next in seniority.

“Sen. Feinstein is focused right now on the Barrett nomination and the upcoming election,” the California Democrat’s office said in a statement. “Decisions on the next Congress will be made after Nov. 3.”

There is precedent for replacing committee chairs who no longer are up to the job or become incapacitated due to health issues. The late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) was replaced as the chairman of the Armed Services Committee during the late 1990s. And in 2008, the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) voluntarily gave up his role as Appropriations Committee chairman. Most recently, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) retired in 2018 after questions were raised about his fitness to wield the gavel at the Appropriations Committee.

The seniority system in Congress protects veteran members from being pushed aside by more junior rivals who may have a higher profile, and it also provides a powerful tool to small states or poor districts to get federal attention. Yet the other side of the coin is that it can take decades to climb the committee ladder, meaning lawmakers may not be as vital as they once were when they finally get to the cherished panel post.

But for Feinstein, this month's controversy centers on her throwback attitude of bipartisan comity and buddying up to Graham, an embattled incumbent who Democrats see as rushing the Supreme Court hearings and shifting the high court away from them for a generation.

“I hate the fact that saying something nice about me about the way I conducted the hearing has gotten to the point now that people would drive you out of office,” Graham lamented in an interview. “We’re losing our way here."

Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.

Bloomberg knocks Trump back on his heels in Florida


Billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s $100 million investment in Florida to defeat Donald Trump is recasting the presidential contest in the president’s must-win state, forcing his campaign to spend big to shore up his position and freeing up Democratic cash to expand the electoral map elsewhere.

Bloomberg’s massive advertising and ground-game spending, which began roughly a month ago, has thrown Trump into a defensive crouch across the arc of Sunbelt states. As a result, the president‘s campaign has scaled back its TV ad buys in crucial Northern swing states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan — a vacuum being filled by a constellation of outside political groups backing Joe Biden.

“It’s forced the Trump campaign to retrench in Florida. You can see it in the spending habits, in television and digital. They’re investing more at the expense of places they need to win,” said Steve Schale, who leads the pro-Biden Unite the Country super PAC.

“Basically, Trump has now been committed to the equivalent of land war in Asia by having to spend so much of his money in Florida, a state he has to win to get to 270 Electoral College votes,” Schale said. “And as a result, he doesn’t have the resources to compete everywhere he would like.”

Schale said his group and the other major Democratic super PAC, Priorities USA, have been able to focus their dollars in other parts of the country, particularly the Upper Midwest. Democratic super PACs, meanwhile, have been able to focus more attention on Arizona, North Carolina and Georgia — once-reliably red states where the president has also had to commit additional resources for the past month, in addition to Florida.

Florida, the largest and most-expensive swing state, has 10 media markets and is so competitive that outside groups and the presidential campaigns have spent and reserved a record $263 million on TV ads from June through Election Day, according to data compiled by the media tracking firm Advertising Analytics.



Since the beginning of September, Trump has added more than $6 million to his total in ad spending in Florida, according to Advertising Analytics. During that same period of time, with Democrats freed up to attack elsewhere, the Trump campaign has also been forced to plow more than $7 million in ad spending into Georgia — a state he was once expected to win easily — and nearly $6 million in Arizona, another state he won in 2016.

Trump also decreased planned spending by nearly $13 million in Ohio, more than $6 million in Minnesota and nearly $3 million in Wisconsin, reducing his advertising footprint in the region.

David Johnson, former Florida GOP executive director, said the Bloomberg money has had a clear effect on forcing Trump to withdraw to his core states, instead of competing across a wider national map.

“This is not your 2016 election, so abso-freaking-lutley the Trump team knows they have to maintain something closer to parity in [gross rating] points and spots in the home stretch,” Johnson said. “You best not be massively outspent in Florida the last two weeks and expect to perform well on Election Day, where Republicans have to turnout in vastly larger numbers to win.”

In Pennsylvania, former Republican Congressman Phil English said Trump’s campaign has a clear advantage on the ground, where the GOP spent all summer organizing and knocking on doors. But on TV, English said, there’s a huge disparity in the area he once represented, Erie County, one of the bellwethers of the swing state.

“The Democrats are literally flooding everything with anti-Trump and pro-Biden advertising. It’s a concern,” English said. “We’re definitely seeing seniors reacting to the coronavirus here, and the steady messaging from Democrats over how the Trump administration has handled coronavirus has moved a lot of people.”


Trump’s advisers say they are confident about the amount of money they have to spend on TV across the map — announcing a $55 million ad buy this week — and outside groups are backfilling for Trump in some states where he has drawn down his own spending.

The pro-Trump super PAC America First Action, for example, has added nearly $17 million in ad spending in Pennsylvania and more than $5 million in Wisconsin since the beginning of September, according to Advertising Analytics. It has added nearly $8.8 million in Florida.

Even so, Biden’s financial advantage in the home stretch — and Trump’s vulnerability in once-safe states — has unexpectedly forced the former vice president to make difficult decisions about where to spend it all.

“The contraction of the Upper Midwest and the failure to keep TV advertising there speaks to [Trump’s] flagging possibilities to win,” said Doug Herman, who was a lead mail strategist for Barack Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns.

Fernand Amandi, a veteran Democratic pollster and consultant in Florida, said “In the closing days of a campaign, follow the money means follow the problems. Clearly there is concern in the Trump camp as they vote with their wallets to try and restore states that, if they’re in jeopardy, spell real problems for their campaign.”

Trump’s Florida squeeze isn’t all Bloomberg‘s doing. At the same time the former New York City mayor was ramping up his Florida spending, Trump’s campaign was experiencing a cash crunch from too much spending and too little funding. But Bloomberg’s money, by design, has added to the pressure on the president

“It’s virtually impossible for Trump to win the presidency without Florida, and that is why Mike Bloomberg is investing $100 million into the race there — to turn it into a state Trump and Republicans have to work hard to win, and to free up Democratic resources to other states like Pennsylvania that can solidify a Biden victory,” said Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg’s senior political adviser. “Florida is a key state for winning the presidency — and where we hope Donald Trump makes his residency permanent after he loses.”


Max Steele, a former Florida Democratic Party spokesman and current senior communications advisor with the liberal group American Bridge, said his organization has noticed Trump’s scaling back in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. That’s where American Bridge has been focusing on getting Obama-Trump voters to flip back to the Democratic fold.

“That’s the point of Bloomberg’s spending: keep him mired down. Florida is a money pit,” Steele said.

One thing remains unclear about Bloomberg’s TV ad spending — the efficacy, compared to social media or news coverage of the final two weeks of the campaign. Both sides recognize it’s taking place against the backdrop of a highly polarized electorate in which few voters remain undecided.

“I think one of the things we’re going to find this year is that there has been a much higher percentage spent on social media and voter contact,” said Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. “I think this is a base election, not a swing selection, so you’re having a much larger percentage of money spent on get-out-the-vote and communicating with your supporters.”

Samantha Zager, a Trump campaign spokesperson, pointed to the Trump’s campaign’s ground game, his digital spending and his data operation as advantages over Biden that counteract Democrats’ TV spending.

“Considering President Trump won in 2016 and the DC establishment got itself worked up over the exact same issue then, maybe it’s time for the mainstream media to accept our winning strategy and start questioning why Joe Biden is needlessly overspending on TV.”

States prepare for their own vaccine safety reviews amid worries about Trump’s influence on the FDA


Several states are setting up their own coronavirus vaccine reviews to counter public safety concerns as the Trump administration pushes the Food and Drug Administration to approve a shot on an aggressive timeline that they fear could be too rushed.

New York, California, Michigan, West Virginia, Washington D.C. and potentially a handful of others are in the early stages of creating independent panels to review vaccine data as it becomes available – although it’s not yet clear whether all these states would seek to block distribution of a vaccine they deem unsafe or ineffective, or just to broadcast those concerns.

Most have Democratic governors; in an exception, West Virginia is convening an advisory group of 20 to 25 pharmacists and physicians to review Covid-19 vaccine efficacy data. In addition, Oregon has said it will use its own senior state health advisers to review data. Nearby Washington will watch the FDA vaccine approval process closely to make sure it’s “thorough and transparent.”

“Frankly, I’m not going to trust the federal government’s opinion,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in announcing his state’s vaccine review panel. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who announced his state’s 11 member panel of doctors and scientists on Monday said: "Of course we won't take anyone's word for it."

President Donald Trump’s intense push for a vaccine before the election – which is now virtually impossible given that none of the leading vaccine candidates will be ready by then -- on top of administration pressure on the FDA and Centers for Disease Control, have sowed growing public doubt about vaccine safety, particularly as the research into the shots has progressed at an unprecedented breakneck pace.

A CNN poll from earlier this month showed only about half of Americans might get a vaccine, while a more recent Stat News poll revealed 58 percent of the U.S. public said they would get vaccinated as soon as a vaccine was available – a big decline over its prior poll. If large numbers of people spurn the shot, its power to beat back the pandemic is diminished.

States have not yet released a lot of details about their vaccine reviews. The additional layer of oversight raises questions about whether a state agency could impede use of a federally-approved vaccine, and whether they could end up slowing down the pandemic response, rather than enhancing it.

Even though governors say they are protecting their residents in case pressure from the White House leads the FDA to approve a flawed vaccine, some officials and public health advocates are warning that these state interventions could confuse the public and prevent people from seeking a shot even if it is safe and effective.

It is “hard to see how any state could replicate anything like the national, gold standard system” of FDA approval, said former FDA commissioner Mark McClellan, who now heads a major health policy center at Duke.

Critics of the state review panels include both Republicans in Congress as well as nonpartisan public health experts in both the advocacy and academic worlds.

Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, the outgoing top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the FDA, called the state vaccine panels a “reckless” idea that would “dangerously undermine the FDA” and increase public vaccine hesitancy.

Walden told a recent committee hearing that the FDA had ample safeguards, including an independent data safety monitoring board for each vaccine trial, as well as the outside experts that serve on the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn has said the advisory panel, which meets for the first time to discuss Covid-19 vaccines this Thursday, will review every vaccine prior to an emergency authorization or approval.

States “would be hard-pressed to find more qualified experts” than those already on the FDA and CDC advisory panels, said Amy Pisani, executive director of the nonprofit Vaccinate Your Family. Their “recommendations will speak for themselves,” she said.

Traditionally the states have been more involved with planning and overseeing vaccine distribution, rather than evaluating efficacy and safety. That’s where the focus should stay, said Jason Schwartz, a vaccine expert at the Yale School of Public Health, who fears the state panels “would only create confusion.” He said the scientists involved with the FDA review will make clear themselves whether the FDA review process has been tainted. If they stay involved, it will be a signal that science is prevailing over politics.

But some governors and state health officials remain worried — either because they have lost confidence in the FDA’s independence or because they believe the public has. Much of the White House’s pressure on the FDA has played out in public, with Trump’s statements and tweets on both drugs and vaccines.

The White House attempted to block FDA from spelling out additional vaccine safety requirements for emergency authorizations, yielding only it when it became clear the agency would not back down. The FDA has also signed off on emergency authorizations under White House pressure for some treatments with sparse data, including Trump-championed hydroxychloroquine, and more recently with convalescent plasma. The FDA later reversed the emergency authorization of hydroxychloroquine as data mounted that the malaria drug did not help with the coronavirus.

States had to submit their vaccine distribution plans to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by Friday. More details on those plans and the vaccine data review panels are likely to trickle out in the coming weeks. California has publicly released more information than most.

The FDA experts can interpret raw data provided by vaccine developers; whether any or all of the states will have that same data is not yet known. Nor it is clear what powers the state will have to restrict vaccine distribution or use if the panel reaches a different conclusion than the FDA-appointed experts. Even if they can’t bar the vaccine from their state, a public assessment that the state doesn’t find a vaccine safe or effective would almost certainly dampen use.

Patti Zettler, a former FDA attorney who is now an associate law professor at Ohio State University, said that states can legally restrict the use of FDA-approved or authorized products, such as a vaccine, but that could be challenged in court. She noted that in 2014, Massachusetts tried to ban a powerful new opioid that the FDA had approved, but the opioid manufacturer got a court to overturn it.

“States interested in these independent evaluations underscores how much public trust in FDA has been lost,” Zettler said. “That loss is hugely problematic as a public health matter.”

States and vaccine developers have offered few specifics on how the reviews will be conducted.

“We would hope there would be transparency at the federal level regarding that data so we can make an informed decision,” said a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Michigan aims to independently evaluate the efficacy and safety data for any approved vaccines.

Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services department, said the speed with which vaccines were moving through trials was one trigger for California’s planned vaccine safety committee. “Once it’s established, it will be made public and their charge and mission will be clarified” on a state website, he said.

Arthur Reingold, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California at Berkeley who’s chairing the California vaccine review panel, said in a phone interview that state reviews could cut both ways. Some people might “feel gratitude to the government for looking after their interests, with added reassurance, and other people might go across the border to another state to get a vaccine.”

The Washington, D.C., health department said its panel will rely on publicly available information for its reviews of vaccines.

Not surprisingly, the biopharma industry, which in general prefers consistent national and international guidance and standards, lambasted the proposed state vaccine reviews.

“This is more than a little perturbing,” Michelle McMurry-Heath, the new president and CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, told the Food and Drug Law Institute conference last week. “To put in place one or even 50 individual extra levels of review to second guess FDA decisions is a huge mistake.”

A spokesperson for Moderna, one of the two leading vaccine candidate developers, said that “nothing is far enough along in this area for us to be ready to comment.” Pfizer Chief Business Officer John Young told the Business Council of New York State’s annual meeting that the company “will cooperate with all levels of government and will be transparent with all our data.”

Two other leading candidates — AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson — have paused their U.S.-based Phase III trials due to safety concerns. A spokesman for Oxford University, which is working with AstraZeneca, said their ongoing Covid-19 trials in the U.K., Brazil and South Africa have enrolled almost 20,000 participants so far.

California outlines path for sports fans and Disneyland — in concept


OAKLAND — California officials on Tuesday dangled the possibility of allowing visitors to professional sporting events and theme parks, but the realities of infection rates and county policies quickly dashed hopes that major venues would open anytime soon.

The state until now has blocked visitors from professional games and theme parks out of concern for coronavirus spread. With infection rates declining after a summer surge, California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly issued rules Tuesday that provide a path for those venues to open.

The new guidelines for professional sports allow outdoor stadiums and racetracks to reopen in counties that have lowered infections enough to reach the orange tier, the second-least restrictive. Teams there can play with up to 20 percent capacity, with additional restrictions such as ticket purchasers having to live within a 120-mile radius and a face-covering mandate.

California this year allowed professional sports to occur without fans in California, which included hosting part of the Major League Baseball playoff bubble this month in Southern California.

Tuesday's spectator announcement initially raised the spirits of San Francisco 49ers fans because Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara County qualifies for reopening under the state rules. But Santa Clara County immediately issued a statement after Ghaly's announcement saying that fans at professional sporting events "will not be allowed anytime soon."

Santa Clara County was the first in the nation to shut pro sports events in March as community spread began, a move that was partially responsible for forcing the NBA and other leagues to reconsider their policies.

County Executive Jeff Smith, who is also a physician, followed up with harsh words for state officials.

“It makes no sense whatsoever to have audiences at stadiums, particularly when there is a model to do it without audiences in a much a safer way,” Smith said at a press briefing Tuesday afternoon. “Putting an audience in a stadium in large groups is just asking for trouble. It’s like a petri dish.”

The state also released rules for reopening theme parks that allows smaller venues to reopen in counties with lower rates of infection — but brings no immediate relief to Disneyland or other major Southern California attractions.

The large attractions won't be allowed to open until their counties are in the yellow tier — which no Southern California county has reached — and those parks will have to limit capacity with 25 percent capacity with reservations. Disneyland is in Orange County, which is still in the red tier, two levels away from where it would have to land for the theme park to reopen.

Ghaly said the distinction between the large and small parks came down to the characteristics of the venue and the reach of their draw. He said smaller amusement parks "often don't draw from broader communities, and they are almost exclusively outdoors" while the large theme parks can attract an international audience.

Ken Potrock, president of Disneyland Resort, was dissatisfied with the latest announcement. The resort took the unusual step of issuing a statement with quotes from Orange County Public Health Officer Clayton Chau, who said the county would likely not reach the yellow tier until next summer and that it could depend on a vaccine.

Disney chief Bob Iger recently resigned from Gov. Gavin Newsom's reopening task force out of frustration with the governor's theme park prohibition. The company's Disney World Resort is open in Florida.

"We have proven that we can responsibly reopen, with science-based health and safety protocols strictly enforced at our theme park properties around the world," Potrock said in a statement. "Nevertheless, the State of California continues to ignore this fact, instead mandating arbitrary guidelines that it knows are unworkable and that hold us to a standard vastly different from other reopened businesses and state-operated facilities."

Flynn, Grenell on opposing GOP sides of Georgia Senate race


Two key figures in President Donald Trump’s attacks on the 2016-era Russia investigation endorsed dueling Republican candidates in one of Georgia’s hotly contested Senate races.

Trump’s former acting intelligence chief Richard Grenell on Tuesday endorsed Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), who was appointed to her seat earlier this year after Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) retired. Just hours earlier, Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in 2017, had endorsed Loeffler’s challenger, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.).

The race, which has grown contentious in recent months, has essentially turned into a battle of who supports Trump the most. While the president has not endorsed a candidate in the race, he has spoken glowingly about both of them.

Senate Republicans’ campaign arm is backing Loeffler, reinforcing its policy of supporting GOP incumbents; Trump’s allies in the House are largely backing Collins.

Loeffler has been in office for less than a year and has been relatively quiet about what Trump’s allies allege was an effort by the outgoing Obama administration to illegally target and undermine the incoming Trump administration. Collins, on the other hand, led the charge against House Democrats’ impeachment of Trump from his former perch as the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, and has been a reliable ally in Trump’s fight to investigate the origins of the Russia probe.



The Justice Department earlier this year moved to drop all charges against Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to federal authorities about his contacts with Russia’s then-ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. Flynn resigned as national security adviser in February 2017 after just a few weeks on the job, after he admitted to lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with Kislyak.

But Flynn has since become a hero of the Trump-supporting right, which argues that Flynn was unfairly targeted by Obama administration Justice Department officials. The president himself has supported a campaign against his political foes involved in the initial investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, including special counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year probe.

When he served as acting director of national intelligence, Grenell was an active participant in the Trump-backed effort, moving to declassify certain documents about the Russia investigation. Democrats said those actions were intended to boost the president’s political fortunes.

The Georgia race, which is a special election to fill out the remainder of Isakson’s term, is likely to head to a runoff, with no candidate expected to reach the 50-percent threshold. Loeffler and Collins are polling close to one another, but Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock is on track to claim the top spot for the runoff. Loeffler and Collins are vying for the second slot.

GOP money man pleads guilty on foreign influence charge


A top Republican fundraiser has pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiring to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Elliott Broidy, a former deputy finance chairman for the Republican National Committee, conspired with others to influence the federal government on behalf of Malaysian financier Jho Low, he acknowledged on Tuesday.

Criminal charges for violations of the 1938 law had been rare in recent decades, and charges of conspiracy to violate FARA even rarer: As Broidy’s plea agreement notes, there are no applicable sentencing guidelines for the charge.

But FARA has come to the fore in President Donald Trump’s Washington, where global money and influence have flowed especially freely. The Justice Department signaled last year its intent to tighten enforcement, following the high-profile prosecutions of Trump lieutenants Paul Manafort and Rick Gates for charges that stemmed from their foreign lobbying work.

Broidy will forfeit $6.6 million as part of the deal.

Low, an international fugitive from justice, stands accused of masterminding the massive 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, fraud. He has denied wrongdoing and recruited a stable of American advisers, but has not come to the U.S. to face charges.

Broidy’s efforts on behalf of Low included attempts to soften the Trump administration's stance on the 1MDB fraud, and to bolster Beijing’s efforts to secure the extradition of Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, an ally of Steve Bannon’s seeking asylum in the U.S.

Broidy was largely unsuccessful, but his efforts attracted the notice of federal prosecutors.

Nickie Lum Davis, a Hawaii-based political consultant, and George Higginbotham, a former Justice Department official, have already pleaded guilty for their efforts to help Low influence the government.

Musician Pras Michel, best known for his role in the rap group the Fugees, has pleaded not guilty to charges he helped Low conceal foreign contributions into groups backing President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Goldman Sachs would pay a $2.8 billion fine and that a subsidiary of the bank was expected to plead guilty to a criminal charge for its role in the 1MDB fraud.

Broidy is best known in Washington for his efforts to influence the Trump administration's foreign policy on behalf of the United Arab Emirates. Those efforts were exposed in reports based on Broidy’s hacked emails. Broidy has accused the UAE’s rival, Qatar, of orchestrating the hack, a charge the country denies.

What’s next: The plea agreement stipulates that Broidy will not face additional charges related to his efforts on behalf of Low, or his efforts to undermine Qatar on behalf of the UAE.

Broidy entered the plea at a virtual hearing before Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the District of Columbia District Court. Public access to the hearing was permitted by calling into a conference line, but for much of the hearing the audio was unintelligible.

A status hearing is scheduled for February.

California wants court to force Republicans to divulge ballot box details


OAKLAND — California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is pursuing a court order to wring more information from the California Republican Party about its unofficial ballot collection boxes.

Becerra wants the California GOP to share the locations of the boxes and the identity of voters who have used them. In a court filing, Becerra argued that such information is critical to ensuring that votes are counted and that the California Republican Party is abiding by election laws governing how it collects ballots. The filing says the Republican Party has refused to share the information requested.

“Because the election date is quickly approaching, it is critical that the State ensure that any ballot that was deposited into a drop box is able to be confirmed as having reached a county elections official for counting,” the filing says.

Becerra is escalating a standoff with the California GOP over the party’s ballot collection practices. The party has already said it has no obligation to share all the information Becerra wants.

The Republican Party vowed to fight back, with spokesperson Hector Barajas excoriating Becerra in a statement for “an abuse of power” and “authoritarian bullying tactics” in violating Californians’ privacy.

“The California Republican Party will not provide the Secretary of State or Attorney General a list of Californians who attend religious services, frequent firearms retailers, participate in political events or engage in any other lawful activity,” Barajas said.

After the Republican Party admitted it was behind unofficial ballot boxes that were surfacing in congressional battleground areas, Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla sent a cease-and-desist order last week telling the party to stand down.

Republican officials have said they are complying with election laws and removed an erroneous “official” label on one of the boxes. Becerra and Padilla signaled on Friday that the boxes could remain, but they underscored that they were continuing to investigate and seeking more information via subpoenas.

“To the extent that unauthorized ballot drop boxes are redeployed, our investigation is ongoing and we will act where necessary,” Becerra said in a statement Monday accompanying the latest court action.

Republican party officials resisted those demands last week. They said state law does not require ballot collectors to record their relationships to voters, as California insists, and argued that disclosing the location of ballot boxes would reveal the party’s political strategy.

“Unless the other side’s going to tell us where they’re doing ballot harvesting and the like we are not going to reveal the campaign plans of the California Republican Party,” attorney Thomas Hiltachk said on Friday.

Republicans say their boxes are another form of collection that has been used by Democrats in recent elections, in which volunteers have delivered ballots on behalf of voters under a 2016 law that broadened such activity.

Lawmakers press HHS for documents on Trump’s drug-card plan


Senior Democratic lawmakers are demanding that the health department turn over internal documents on President Donald Trump's plan to give seniors $200 discount cards to buy prescription drugs, following a POLITICO report that the department's top lawyer warned the plan could violate election law.

The media reports "appear to confirm our concerns that the Trump Administration is relying on dubious legal authority to justify a blatant political gambit by the President that would be paid for using taxpayer dollars," Reps. Frank Pallone and Richard Neal and Sen. Ron Wyden wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, demanding the documents by Monday.

Trump abruptly announced the drug-card plan last month, prompting health officials to rush to find a legal basis for it before Election Day. But the $7.9 billion proposal, which would be paid for by dipping into one of Medicare's trust funds, has come under fire from Democrats and outside watchdogs, who have called it inappropriate and potentially illegal. The Trump administration says it's a legally permissible use of Medicare powers to "test" new ways of funding care.

Pallone chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Neal chairs the Ways and Means Committee and Wyden is the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee. In their letter to Azar, which was first shared with POLITICO, the Democrats requested an unredacted copy of HHS General Counsel Robert Charrow's internal memo warning that Trump's plan could violate election law because of its close proximity to Election Day. The Democrats also are requesting details of Charrow's instruction that HHS seek guidance from the Justice Department before moving forward with the plan.

In addition, the Democrats are seeking a copy of the draft letter that officials had planned to send to 39 million Medicare beneficiaries announcing the rollout of the drug cards. Three officials last week told POLITICO that the draft letter has been carefully guarded amid growing legal scrutiny of the plan. Though the vast majority of the drugs cards were unlikely to go out before Election Day, administration officials have been hoping to provide notice to seniors by then.

The Democrats also requested that the administration brief congressional staff on the plan by next week. The three Democrats have separately asked the Government Accountability Office to begin an immediate review of the drug cards.

An HHS spokesperson said that the department would respond to Congress' requests but would not specify whether the administration would produce Charrow's memo and other documents.

"HHS does not comment on alleged, leaked documents," the spokesperson said, referring additional questions about the draft letter to Medicare officials.

Despite the growing concerns about the drug cards, Trump has continued to tout the plan in an effort to shore up his flagging support with seniors.

"[M]ore than 35 million Medicare beneficiaries will soon receive a card in the mail with $200 that you can use to help pay for prescription drugs," Trump vowed on Friday during an event in Florida billed as "Protecting America's Seniors."

A step ‘long overdue’: DOJ’s Google antitrust suit meets bipartisan praise


Lawmakers from across the political spectrum lauded the Justice Department for hitting Google with a major antitrust lawsuit on Tuesday, remarks that highlight the breadth of bipartisan concern in Washington over the power the tech giant wields online.

A broad coalition: Progressive Democrats, populist Republicans and even libertarian-leaning conservatives voiced support for the DOJ suit, the first major U.S. monopolization case in decades. The DOJ and 11 Republican attorneys general filed the legal complaint in Washington, D.C., federal court, accusing Google of abusing its dominance in the online search market to crowd out competitors.

House antitrust subcommittee Chair David Cicilline (D-R.I.), whose panel issued a sweeping report accusing Google and other tech giants of abusing their monopoly power earlier this month, called the lawsuit a step “long overdue” in a tweet.

“It is critical that the Justice Department’s lawsuit focuses on Google’s monopolization of search and search advertising, while also targeting the anticompetitive business practices Google is using to leverage this monopoly into other areas, such as maps, browsers, videos and voice assistants,” said Cicilline, a vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, in a statement.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the libertarian-leaning chair of the counterpart Senate antitrust subcommittee, likewise called the suit “an encouraging sign in our country’s ongoing battle against the pernicious influence of Big Tech” in a statement.

How times have changed: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who as the Missouri attorney general launched a state probe into Google’s competitive practices in 2017, called the DOJ lawsuit a “major development” in the government's approach to the company's dominance online.

“Three years ago I couldn’t get a single fellow state attorney general to join my antitrust investigation into Google, not one, Republican or Democrat,” Hawley, an outspoken tech critic and prominent ally to President Donald Trump, said on a call with reporters.


A notable caveat: Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, said in a statement that she is “pleased that the Justice Department is finally taking action” on years of complaints that Google has abused its dominance in search to squelch competitors."

But she said the "questionable timing of the suit so close to the election" could undermine efforts to rein in the tech giant's conduct.

“While the lawsuit is an important start, it will likely be passed to a new Attorney General, as well as state attorney generals across the country,” she said. “It will be on them to finish the job and get real results.”

The DOJ's lawsuit is notably lacking the backing of any Democratic AGs, who are forging ahead with a separate complaint against the tech giant with other Republican state regulators that could be unveiled in coming weeks.

Efforts to combine those complaints ran into political headwinds earlier this year partly because U.S. Attorney General William Barr pushed to file the case ahead of the November election, as POLITICO reported. By filing the lawsuit now, the DOJ is setting it into motion regardless of whether President Donald Trump or Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden win the November election.

Google’s response: The tech giant called the DOJ’s lawsuit “deeply flawed” in a statement, adding: “People use Google because they choose to — not because they're forced to or because they can't find alternatives.”

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