Graham to Biden: 'If you want an infrastructure deal of a trillion dollars, it's there for the taking'

Sen. Lindsey Graham encouraged President Joe Biden to support his bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure proposal, but said it could be jeopardized if Democrats signal that they intend to follow it up with their own second infrastructure package via reconciliation.

"I think the difference between this negotiation and the earlier negotiation is that we are willing to add more new money to infrastructure in this package and I am hopeful that the White House and Joe Biden stay involved, we can get there," Graham (R-S.C.) said on "Fox News Sunday."

"President Biden, if you want an infrastructure deal of a trillion dollars, it's there for the taking, you just need to get involved and lead."

Graham's comments came as Senate Democrats continue to weigh spending as much as $6 trillion via the reconciliation process on their own infrastructure package if the chamber's bipartisan talks fail — or even if the bipartisan package is approved. Graham said if Democrats go the reconciliation route, it could be "very problematic," and called on Biden again to work with the bipartisan group.

"President Biden, you've got a party that's divided, you've got a Republican Party that's willing to meet you in the middle for a trillion dollars of infrastructure that could fundamentally change the way America does business in roads, ports, and bridges and accelerate electrical vehicles," Graham said. "You've got to decide what kind of president you are and what kind of presidency you want."

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) doubled down on Graham's comments about Democrats' larger infrastructure proposal, saying it's a "grab bag of progressive priorities."

"It's not about infrastructure. It's kind of a $6 trillion grab bag of progressive priorities," Portman said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "Ours is about core infrastructure, and it is paid for."

The bipartisan proposal, led by Portman and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), that was detailed last week offers an infrastructure plan that costs about $973 billion over five years or $1.2 trillion over eight. The plan would have $579 billion in new spending and would repurpose unspent Covid relief funds, impose a surcharge on electric vehicles, and expand the use of state and local funds for coronavirus relief.

Graham said he joined the group — featuring 10 Democrats and 10 other Republicans — as its 21st member.

"If you want to work with Republicans to spend a trillion dollars of — on infrastructure, it's available to you," Graham added. "If you don't want to go that route and you pick a $6 trillion reconciliation package, I think you'll get a lot of pushback from every Republican."

Portman affirmed moderate Republicans' commitment to the bipartisan bill.

"I think we're absolutely committed to it, and I think there's a number of others as well on both sides of the aisle," Portman said. "Last week, I heard from a lot of my colleagues saying, 'I just need to look at one other issue, you know, can you do this, can you do that,' but there's, there's a lot of interest in having a bipartisan proposal."

Unclear if Iran's election will change nuclear talks, Jake Sullivan says

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday that it was too soon to tell if the election of a new president in Iran would lead to a change for better or worse in nuclear talks with the Islamic state.

Speaking Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Sullivan said, "It's hard to speculate about the internal dynamics in Iran on a question like that. What I would say is the ultimate decision for whether or not to go back into the deal lies with Iran's supreme leader. He was the same person before this election as he is after the election."

Ebrahim Raisi, the hard-line chief of Iran's judiciary, scored a decisive victory in its presidential election held Friday, though turnout was lower than usual, apparently because of widespread apathy and dissatisfaction with the limited ballot choices permitted by supreme leader Ali Khamenei and his Guardian Council.

The election came amid continued talks in Vienna designed to bring the United States back into the international agreement reached during the Obama years that was intended to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Iran, for its part, wants a deal that will lead to a lifting of crippling economic sanctions.

"The whole question of which sanctions will be lifted is currently being negotiated in Vienna," Sullivan told host George Stephanopoulos.

"What I will say is that the United States retains the right even under the JCPOA, even under the Iran nuclear deal, to impose sanctions for reasons other than the nuclear file, for terrorism, for human rights, for missile development," he said.

Sullivan said the key is to remain focused on the ultimate goal.

"I think what we need to do in the United States is keep our eye on the ball. And that is our paramount priority right now is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon," he said.

Diplomats to meet in Vienna for more Iran nuclear talks

VIENNA — Further talks between Iran and global powers were planned Sunday to try to negotiate and restore a landmark 2015 agreement to contain Iranian nuclear development that was later abandoned by the Trump administration.

Senior diplomats from China, Germany, France, Russia, and Britain were due to meet at a hotel in the Austrian capital.

Top Russian representative Mikhail Ulyanov wrote in a tweet Saturday that the members of the members of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, “will decide on the way ahead at the Vienna talks. An agreement on restoration of the nuclear deal is within reach but is not finalized yet.”

Iran’s deputy foreign minister for political affairs said Sunday that almost all JCPOA agreement documents had been readily negotiated and that the diplomats involved would shortly return to their home countries — not only for further consultations with their respective governments but also for final decision-making.

“We are now in a situation that we think almost all the agreement documents are ready,” Seyyed Abbas Araghchi said in Vienna ahead of the meeting.

“Of the main issues that remain disputed, some have been resolved and some remain, but it has taken on a very precise form and it is quite clear what the dimensions of these disputes are,” he added.

“We will stop the talks and return to the capitals for a few days not just for further consultations but for decision-making,” the Iranian top negotiator in the Vienna talks said. “But now, I can not say exactly for how many days.”

The U.S. does not have a representative at the table when the diplomats met in Vienna because former U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the country out of the deal in 2018. Trump also restored and augmented sanctions to try to force Iran into renegotiating the pact with more concessions.

However, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has signaled willingness to rejoin the deal under terms that would broadly see the United States scale back sanctions and Iran return to 2015 nuclear commitments. A U.S. delegation in Vienna is taking part in indirect talks with Iran, with diplomats from the other world powers acting as go-betweens.

Sunday’s meeting is the first since Iran’s hard-line judiciary chief won a landslide victory in the country’s presidential election earlier this week.

The election of Ebrahim Raisi puts hard-liners firmly in control across the government at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though still short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Raisi also has become the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office, over his involvement in the 1988 mass executions, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

New Israeli leader: World powers must ‘wake up’ on Iran nuke deal

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday opened his first Cabinet meeting since swearing in his new coalition government last week with a condemnation of the new Iranian president. He said Iran’s presidential election was a sign for world powers to “wake up” before returning to a nuclear agreement with Tehran.

Iran’s hard-line judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected Saturday with 62% of the vote amid a historically low voter turnout. He is sanctioned by the U.S. in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Raisi has not commented specifically on the event.

Bennett said at the Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem that “of all the people that (Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei could have chosen, he chose the hangman of Tehran, the man infamous among Iranians and across the world for leading the death committees that executed thousands of innocent Iranian citizens throughout the years.”

Iran and world powers were set to resume indirect talks in Vienna on Sunday to resurrect Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal, which granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

For weeks, Iranian and American diplomats have been negotiating a return to the accord in the Austrian capital through European intermediaries.

Sunday’s talks are the first since the election of Raisi, which will put hard-liners firmly in control across Iran’s government.

The landmark nuclear deal between world powers and Iran, which Israel opposed, collapsed after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the accord in 2018. That decision has seen Iran, over time, abandon every limitation on enrichment and Tehran is currently enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though still short of weapons-grade levels.

Bennett said Raisi’s election as Iranian president was “the last chance for the world powers to wake up before returning to the nuclear agreement and to understand who they’re doing business with.

“These guys are murderers, mass murderers: a regime of brutal hangmen must never be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction that will enable it to not kill thousands, but millions,” he said.

Israel has long stated that it opposes arch-enemy Iran’s nuclear program and said it would prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes.

Earlier this month, Israel’s outgoing Mossad intelligence chief signaled that Israel was behind a string of recent attacks targeting the country’s nuclear program.

Bennett heads a broad coalition of parties ranging from Jewish ultranationalists to liberal factions and a small Islamist party. His government convened its first Cabinet meeting since it was sworn in last week, ousting long-time prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office and sending him to the opposition for the first time in 12 years.

Betsy DeVos left Washington 5 months ago. Her legacy is alive and well.

The Biden administration is trying to scrub Betsy DeVos’ policy fingerprints from the Education Department on everything from for-profit colleges to sex-based discrimination.

Standing in their way is an array of conservative politicians and advocacy groups eager to keep her policy agenda afloat after she has largely receded from public view.

DeVos’ devotion to using her government position to advocate for charter schools and those accused of sexual misconduct now relies on Republicans like Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) to defend her turf.

The Education Department in June held a weeklong hearing to begin dismantling DeVos' regulation on how schools must handle reports of sexual misconduct. It also made its mark on civics education by rejecting former President Donald Trump’s demands for promoting a rosier view of American history and “patriotic” education, by praising The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, which Trump has called “toxic propaganda.” Talk of school choice, a topic that DeVos championed throughout her tenure, has also been placed on the back burner.

“It's not a surprise that the Biden Education Department is doing precisely what they promised in the campaign, which is trying to undo just about everything that their predecessor did,” said Jeanne Allen, founder of the Center for Education Reform, which advocates for school choice.

Paxton is defending DeVos’ Title IX rule from a barrage of lawsuits, while Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has signed a law creating the “1836 Project,” a reference to the year Texas declared independence from Mexico. Trump’s 1776 Commission, a panel he created after last summer’s civil unrest as a counterpoint to the 1619 Project's emphasis on American slavery, is still meeting despite being disbanded by President Joe Biden in January. New parents groups are also pushing back on civics education that highlights systemic racism.

West Virginia became the latest state to expand its charter school system. And pandemic-spurred public school closures created the “clearest case I’ve seen for school choice in our lifetime,” Scott said in an address to rebut Biden’s first address to Congress.

“Those of us who've worked through all different administrations appreciate when the states step up and take their rightful position, making sure parents are put ahead of bureaucracies,” Allen said.

Here are three policy areas where DeVos’ supporters are hoisting the biggest defenses:

Civics — Larry Arnn and Parents Defending Education

The resurrected 1776 Commission, led by Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn, held its first post-election meeting last month with a focus on civic education curricula.

The group has commended conservative states that have turned their attention toward developing “a genuine civics education that will rebuild our common bonds, our mutual friendship and our civic devotion.” The commission is still drawing up a curriculum designed in the “true spirit of 1776.”

Arnn’s group is also urging parents who believe in their cause to run for school board and vote in those elections.

“There is no more powerful force than parents’ love for their children, and this restoration will depend on mothers and fathers demanding that their children are no longer taught false narratives or fed hateful lies about our country,” the commission said.

At least one group of parents has rallied to the 1776 cause: Parents Defending Education.

Led by Nicole Neily, who also serves as president of national campus free speech organization Speech First, Parents Defending Education has been filing complaints against public school systems with the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights. They have targeted school groups for minority students as promoting racial segregation and anti-racist actions taken by schools.

The group filed a complaint against Ohio’s Columbus City Schools in May, after it admitted in April 2021 that “Systemic racism … has existed for 175 years within the Columbus City Schools education system.” Parents Defending Education said in a statement that the admission of systemic racism “raises questions as to why Columbus City Schools continues to receive federal funds since discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin is a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

The complaint is similar to an Education Department probe launched under DeVos into Princeton University last summer after the school’s president said students there face “systematic racism” and that racism is “embedded” in the structures of the university.

“Parents Defending Education's work is nonpartisan,” the group said in a statement. “We oppose discrimination in America's schools, period. If the Education Department adopts policies frustrating that ideal, we will continue to speak up, submit comments, and pursue the appropriate remedies to protect parents' and students' rights.”

Title IX and gender — Texas Republicans

Paxton, the Texas AG, has been trying to mount a legal defense of the Trump administration’s Title IX sexual misconduct rules, but last month a federal judge dismissed his request to intervene in a lawsuit. He argued in a brief that the Education Department’s latest Title IX review announced in April was a threat to the rule and that the Biden administration is "openly hostile to the Final Rule,” making the department unfit to defend the rule in court.

“The new administration has taken early steps towards the Final Rule’s repeal,” Paxton wrote. “In light of these actions, Texas cannot entrust the defense of its protectable interest to the Department.”

It’s unclear whether Texas will be able to intervene in the lawsuit.

Texas and other states are continuing DeVos’ efforts to bar transgender students from women's sports teams and strip those students of discrimination protection under Title IX.

This year, Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Kentucky, Idaho and Florida have passed laws to bar transgender female students from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity.

In 2017, DeVos revoked Obama-era guidance that protected transgender students under Title IX. Her agency later backed a high-profile lawsuit that threatened Connecticut’s sports authority and school boards with legal action or a loss of funding because it determined the transgender athlete policy violated Title IX.

School choice — the Center for Education Reform

Scott, a staunch supporter of school choice, made a strong case for the DeVos-era policy agenda item in his rebuttal to Biden’s first address to Congress in April.

“I’m saddened that millions of kids have lost a year of learning when they could not afford to lose a single day,” he said. “Our public schools should have reopened months ago. Other countries’ did. Private and religious schools did.”

A survey released by the American Federation for Children, which DeVos led before joining the Trump administration, in January found that 72 percent of K-12 parents who work full-time support school choice, and 79 percent support Education Freedom Scholarship legislation.

The freedom scholarship measure, a favorite of DeVos, aimed to provide federal tax credits for donations to scholarship-granting organizations to pay for students to attend private schools or expand their public education options.

School choice has not been a hot debate topic in Congress like it was when DeVos was in office. But Allen said it is by no means an indication that support for charter schools and choice are dwindling — even with the Education Department’s “negativity.”

“The efforts that are ongoing at the department are attempts to not just reduce program funding, but to try to put what I'd call poison pills in regulatory language and guidance — push Departments of Education to be harder on who gets approved and doesn't,” she said in an interview, adding that “states have been adopting and expanding their own programs.”

This year West Virginia and Iowa have moved to allow charter school expansion in their states. Other states like Tennessee are also looking to bolster their charter schools programs.

“Parents are more activated than ever before,” she said. “I like to say just like it shouldn't have taken a hurricane to turn around New Orleans, it shouldn't have taken a pandemic to wake up families and the public, but that's precisely what happened.”

Opinion | The Incredible Shrinking Mayor of New York

Last summer, as the NYPD beat Black Lives Matter protesters in the streets, New York staggered under the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic and the city’s stunning disparities in wealth became more ineluctable than ever, it seemed as though New Yorkers might be headed toward a truly epochal mayoral election in 2021 — when candidates would confront major questions about how we live now and how we can move forward.

Instead, as New York putters to the end of its first-ever ranked-choice primary elections on Tuesday, the only thing that seems clear is that many voters would have liked still another choice: “None of the above.”

New York City mayoral elections in recent decades often involved big personalities — for better and for worse — debating issues that were equally big, even existential. But after this year’s race, New York feels like a shrinking city, diminished in purpose and common feeling.

It is almost impossible to describe just how scattered, mediocre and insipid this eight-candidate Democratic primary has been. Petty criticisms and personal scandals abound. The current leader on the left, Maya Wiley, has seen her legitimacy questioned because her longtime partner contributed money to have a private security car patrol their neighborhood — after a brutal mugging put him in the hospital. Kathryn Garcia stands “accused” of not being Hispanic. Serious questions have been raised as to whether Eric Adams or Andrew Yang even lives in the city they wish to govern. One-time frontrunner Scott Stringer’s effort tanked after he was accused of groping a friend 20 years ago and a waitress 30 years ago. Dianne Morales’ campaign staff unionized and promptly went on strike, though like a ghost ship her campaign continues to run TV ads.

What former Mayor David Dinkins once called the “gorgeous mosaic” of New York seems to have shattered, with each candidate grabbing for a shard. Adams has his Hasidic faction, Yang has his. Adams and Wiley wrangle for support from Black voters. Ray McGuire has the Upper East Side, Garcia the Upper West.

No doubt the byzantine format of ranked-choice voting, in which voters are asked to pick their top five candidates in order of preference, has contributed to the confusion. The new system provides a sort of “instant run-off” that saves some money, while all but ensuring that the winner will be someone who was not the first choice of a majority of voters.

And, to be sure, most of the city’s past mayoral elections have been far from stirring lessons in democracy. New York, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, was the first great city in history to be run by the people — and the people frequently have made a hash of it. Nineteenth-century mayors included such wholly owned creatures of Boss Tweed as John T. Hoffman and A. Oakey Hall, a resplendent fool who loved to dress all in green on St. Patrick’s Day. The brazenly corrupt Fernando Wood set off a riot between rival police forces and proposed, at the beginning of the Civil War, that New York City should also leave the Union and form its own country of “Tri-Insula.” (Perhaps not such a terrible idea to revive …) Running in a three-man field in 1886, a young Teddy Roosevelt finished merely third, losing to the immortal Abram Hewitt.

Even Fiorello La Guardia, considered to this day the gold standard among American mayors anywhere, ever, won the office in 1933 with barely over 40 percent of the vote. Jimmy Walker, who had crushed La Guardia in the previous election, had been forced to resign and fled to France within days, his showgirl lover and an estimated $1 million of graft gone with him. La Guardia’s successor, William O’Dwyer, fled to Mexico with his wife when evidence emerged that he had enabled a notorious mob murder.

Even so, at moments of real crisis, New Yorkers have proved themselves able to pay attention to the problems at hand and choose candidates and programs that represented a real break with the past. The shining example was La Guardia’s 1933 “fusion” campaign, when a coalition of Republicans, Democrats, socialists and other reformers decided they could no longer afford the incompetence and venality of Tammany Hall at the nadir of the Great Depression. Other changes in direction included the election of Ed Koch after he turned overnight from Greenwich Village liberal to law-and-order candidate in 1977, Rudy Giuliani as the first Republican elected in almost 30 years in 1993, and Michael Bloomberg, the first businessman elected in more than a century, when New York’s whole future seemed tremulous in the wake of 9/11.

Decisive though they were, I would argue that all of these sharp right turns took New York in the wrong direction, ultimately exacerbating the city’s already considerable rifts in race and wealth, and privatizing or erasing so much of the public sector that had been built during the New Deal to make New York a city for all its people. Many New Yorkers, I think, have a certain buyer’s remorse about some of these choices. (Looking at you, Rudy.)

Yet, in more recent years, when dissatisfaction with the course the city had taken became evident, no individual — no great vision — emerged at all. Bill de Blasio took the mayoralty in 2013, after that year’s field folded up in scandal and ennui. De Blasio won two landslide victories without ever managing to build a mandate or even draw much of a turnout. That absence of purpose has shown how New York has drifted over the past few years, even before the pandemic. We have expressed a desire for many things — more affordable housing and business rents, a police department that responds to the people who pay for it, better schools, businesses that provide real opportunities for all New Yorkers — but no effective agenda ever seems to emerge. Instead, we seem to just get more supertall skyscrapers and land-banking billionaires.

This year’s race has been more of the same, reduced in its last days to discussions about crime and quality of life, as if nothing has changed since 1993. Questions about the greater problems of today and tomorrow — the wealth gap, rising sea levels and, again, the police — have not been the driving force of the campaign. Candidates have talked in general ways about how they want all good things — better public education, higher wages, more health care, a less abusive police force — but they say these things as if the desire was the attainment, without a substantive debate about how to get there. That has left the candidates trying to distinguish themselves mostly through smears and innuendo focused on each others‘ personal lives, and by spending a fortune on ads.

New Yorkers used to pride themselves on leading the way as America revised and redefined the ideas of freedom and democracy. Now we just seem distracted and listless, demanding that somebody get those noisy ATVs off the streets. Perhaps it’s an after-effect of Covid, but the social distancing remains. It feels as though we have lost faith in our own ability to make this a city for everyone, preferring to continue hunkering down, each in our own corners.

Maine’s mom and pop weed scene sweats corporate ‘gentrification’

HALLOWELL, Maine — Eddie Dugay’s cannabis dispensary in this town of less than 2,500 people along the Kennebec River could not exist in most states that allow medical marijuana.

The outside of the shop looks like a typical New England home, with white siding, a pitched roof and dark, faded shutters. The inside has the same homey feel despite the menus advertising everything from marijuana flower to infused gummies. The wallpaper doesn't quite match the floral-patterned couch or the bold colors of the blanket draped over a chair.

It’s exactly the vibe of shops like Dugay’s 4Twenty that medical cannabis advocates in Maine say makes their program unique and sets it apart from the polish of corporate marijuana chains that increasingly dominate the market in many states and make weed advocates skittish of the burgeoning industry.

Now, the state is in the process of introducing more stringent regulations that would treat all medical marijuana businesses — from small mom and pops to billion-dollar behemoths — nearly the same. Many of these small businesses, known as “caregivers,” fear the proposed rules will quickly push them out of the market in favor of corporate cannabis.

“They’re trying to over-regulate us because they really don’t want us around,” Dugay said. “I call it medical marijuana gentrification.”

Maine’s network of mom-and-pop marijuana shops has grown rapidly over the three years since state law was changed to allow them to expand their operations to become more competitive with larger dispensaries, which were not limited in the number of plants or patients they could serve. The caregivers were allowed to open retail storefronts, grow more plants, wholesale up to 75 percent of what they grew and hire more than one employee.

There are now more than 3,120 caregivers licensed in the state, employing more than 5,200 people. Marijuana has become Maine’s No. 1 agricultural commodity and a $200 million industry. Caregivers like Dugay account for more than 75 percent of those sales. But the slate of proposed regulations include stricter security requirements, stiffer fines and mandatory seed-to-sale tracking of all marijuana products. State lawmakers are also pushing to expand mandatory testing for contaminants to the medical marijuana market.

Many of these caregivers are now banding together in a fight against the new rules, which they say threaten their existence. The battle in Maine over new market rules is an extreme example of what’s happening across the country as the quasi-legal cannabis industry morphs into a massive business that generated $20 billion in sales last year. Caregiver advocates scored a win last week in the waning days of a special legislative session when the House and Senate overwhelmingly voted to pause the proposed rules, which were supported by one of the country’s biggest cannabis companies.

In March, Maine’s Office of Marijuana Policy conducted a marathon public hearing on the draft proposed regulations where most caregivers voiced their vehement opposition over the course of seven hours.

One of the few people who testified in their favor was a lobbyist representing Curaleaf, a behemoth company with cannabis operations in 23 states and sales projected to top $1 billion this year. Caregivers argue that big corporations and their lobbyists are unduly influencing the rules.

OMP Director Erik Gundersen said his agency isn’t being improperly swayed. “We have rule-making consultants who have been incredibly helpful along the way with the adult-use program,” he said in an interview. “But the rules are drafted [in Maine] by OMP staff.”

For Dugay, becoming a medical cannabis caregiver was the obvious next step in a career that took him from the Navy to the halls of Maine’s Capitol as a state representative. After being termed out, he became a lobbyist and consultant who helped people open up cannabis businesses before it clicked: "What am I doing?” he recalled thinking when he decided to start his own shop. “I know how to do this."

A cottage industry grows up

California sparked the modern marijuana legalization movement when its voters approved a medical cannabis law in 1996. Maine voters followed suit in 1999, part of a second wave of states embracing medical marijuana.

In the early days of Maine’s medical marijuana program, there were few rules.

Over the years, both voters and lawmakers have tweaked the program, allowing caregivers for patients, nonprofit dispensaries and patient ID cards. Laws passed from 2010 to 2014 clarified the regulatory framework and introduced pesticide restrictions aimed at protecting patient safety.

But it was 2018 that marked the biggest shift in the program. Up until then, caregivers were limited to serving six patients and many were barely squeaking by financially. But with only eight dispensaries scattered across a state with more than 1.3 million people, advocates say caregivers were essential in providing medical cannabis access to patients.

Becoming a caregiver became a more viable business instead of a daily fight for survival. Medical marijuana sales totaled nearly $222 million in 2020, compared to $184 million for potatoes and $26 million for blueberries — the two food crops the state is best known for.

State Rep. Patty Hymanson, a neurologist and chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, remembers the day in 2018 when lawmakers put various “stakeholders” of the cannabis program into a room to come up with a deal on a revision of the medical marijuana program. Everyone from representatives of larger dispensaries to smaller caregivers worked for two days on a deal.

In the end, “the Legislature agreed to expand the business of the caregivers so that they were able to develop a business that was larger than before,” she said in an interview. “In exchange for that, it was very clear that they would be regulated more.”

Tracking and testing controversy

With the start of recreational sales in October 2020, the market is poised for another big shakeup. Adult-use sales topped $5.3 million in May, a nearly fourfold increase from the first month of sales. State regulators are trying to thread the needle between preserving the caregiver market while bolstering public safety as the recreational market grows rapidly.

OMP made many changes from the draft rule that initially stirred outrage, but it paused its rulemaking when the Legislature returned for a seven-week special session and competing bills were introduced to address the controversy. One measure, which has the support of many small business owners, would pause the rules and require the OMP to consult with caregivers, patients and medical providers earlier in the process. A competing bill would delay the implementation for "home-based caregivers."

In the past week, the caregiver-backed bill succeeded in both chambers with a 117-25 vote in the House and a 32-2 vote in the Senate. "This is the most consensus they've had on anything this year," said Mark Barnett, who owns a caregiver storefront called Higher Grounds in Portland, Maine.

But passing the bill is just the start of a longer collaborative process. "This is not about not having rules," he said. "We're all in the same state, we all have the same interests [and] we have to find places where those can overlap."

One of the biggest concerns caregivers have is implementing a mandatory seed-to-sale tracking system. The program would be run by Metrc, a Florida-based software company that operates similar programs in 15 other states and Washington, D.C. Tracking marijuana plants with radio-frequency tags as they move through the supply chain is designed to help governments ensure compliance in the legal marijuana market.

But skeptical caregivers point to cannabis businesses in other states who have found implementation costly. Oklahoma medical cannabis businesses are trying to stop the implementation of Metrc in a legal challenge against the state. And a Missouri court recently ruled against the company when it determined that medical marijuana businesses would not have to pay for plant tags.

Caregivers worry that the system will be plagued by spotty internet and electricity access in more rural parts of the state. But most of all, they fear the potential labor expenses rather than the cost of the software or plant tags. Some in the industry have proposed exempting small caregivers from seed-to-sale tracking entirely.

Caregivers like Calvin Akers and Jim Dube, co-founders of Wisely Cannabis in Sanford, already hired a dedicated staffer to specialize in data and compliance. The pair both started growing cannabis in grow tents at home, before expanding into a more commercial operation.

The affable co-founders endured local government meetings where angry residents accused them of trying to peddle drugs to children. The city used to prohibit cannabis businesses from advertising with signage, so the only indication of their dispensary is a big sign on the building that says "OFFICE." But that's set to change soon, thanks to a shift in municipal rules.

Business is going well for Wisely, which has carved out a niche producing solventless extracts in the Maine market. The process involves concentrating the resin of the plant without the use of solvents like butane or carbon dioxide.

Akers and Dube have combined their two caregiver entities under one roof, allowing them to have 1000 square feet of cultivation between the two of them, instead of the individual limit of 500 square feet each. They have 10 employees and a retail storefront, with another storefront in the works.

Metrc says the tracking system is designed to be accessible. The company offers free onboarding classes and webinars, as well as complimentary support.

"Farmers are not necessarily using software during their day to day [operations]," said David Urbanowicz, director of external affairs at Metrc. "Our [user interface] is super user friendly ... [and] designed to mimic the workflow."

Urbanowicz says that while larger businesses might opt to hire a dedicated compliance staffer, it may not be necessary for smaller businesses who grow fewer plants.

Testing is another major area of concern for caregivers. Hymanson introduced a bill this session that would require mandatory testing of all medical cannabis products. Although it was voted down in the Veterans and Legal Affairs committee last month, there almost certainly will be continued efforts to impose testing requirements for caregivers.

While most mom-and-pop operators acknowledge the need for some scrutiny of marijuana products, they worry that overly stringent rules will create problems for them.

Susan Meehan is a caregiver who works exclusively with pediatric patients, in honor of her daughter who suffered from a rare form of severe epilepsy and found relief from using cannabis oil. Meehan works with a laboratory that tests her products for free. She is heavily involved in her patients’ treatments, working with doctors and family members to figure out the most effective formulation.

Meehan is concerned that mandatory testing will back up the labs in Maine so much that it will make it difficult for individual patients and caregivers to test their cannabis as labs focus on serving commercial clients.

While proponents of the legislation say that Maine has plenty of lab capacity, Meehan points to other states like Colorado where the growth of the marijuana market eventually led state regulators to prohibit labs from testing private samples. Medical marijuana patients and caregivers who grew their own cannabis could no longer get their medicine tested, even if they wanted to.

“Patients or parents being able to bring a product into a lab and put their mind at ease — it’s a huge factor for me,” said Meehan, whose daughter passed away when she was 13 years old.

Regulators say they’re listening to these concerns and that they want the rules to be flexible.

“We incorporated a lot of feedback to right-size the [proposed] regulations,” said Gundersen, the state marijuana policy director.

But caregivers like Randall Look, known as Mr. Roots in the Maine cannabis world, are still anxious. Look operates a medical cannabis cultivation business called Alight for Health, located in the island town of Georgetown. He specializes in outdoor, organic cultivation at his own home and has one employee.

Look believes if the rules were to go into effect, many smaller caregivers would opt to go back to the illicit market. Indeed, in California, the high cost of compliance is cited as one of many factors that has helped the illicit market — which accounts for 80 percent of the weed business in the state by some estimates — to thrive.

"The regulations … are going to cause small growers certainly to accrue further costs that none of them are prepared for," he said. "It just makes it so you have to then find investors."

Public safety vs. accessibility

Supporters of the proposed rules say the goal is to protect public health and safety, and to bring accountability to the program.

“It’s very mixed,” said Patricia Callahan, a longtime medical marijuana patient who favors mandatory testing. In more affluent areas, she said caregivers charge more but do more voluntary testing, she explained. But in central Maine, where she lives, she could only find one caregiver storefront that tests its products.

“There shouldn’t be any difference for me going to a pharmacy and assuming everything I buy at the pharmacy is safe,” Callahan said. “I shouldn’t feel any different when I buy medicine on the medical marijuana market.”

States across the country have struggled to figure out how to ensure that minority communities disproportionately impacted by criminal enforcement are able to reap the financial benefits of legalization. Many are creating micro licenses to foster small businesses.

Akers and Dube are prime examples of how market accessibility has helped them create the business that they have today. Anyone can start in a grow tent with a few hundred dollars for the licensing fee.

“I tell [other people of color]: Come to Maine. It’s pretty inclusive here,” said Akers, who is Black. “Maine has been the best place to be. The barrier to entry is really low.”

With the passage of their bill, caregivers are hopeful that the market will stay that way.

"We are the line in the sand — the first that has been drawn in the national fight over how to regulate cannabis,” Barnett, the Portland-based caregiver, said. "I hope people in other states will be inspired by what we have done."

How Republicans Became the ‘Barstool’ Party

Earlier this year, when Echelon Insights released its way-too-early poll of voters’ preferences for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, political wonks could be forgiven for having to Google the name at the bottom of the list next to Sen. Josh Hawley: somebody called “Portnoy,” polling at zero percent.

As founder of the self-consciously lowbrow Barstool Sports digital media empire, Dave Portnoy has, over the past decade, parlayed an outsized, aggressively macho social-media presence into a status as a right-leaning populist champion. He threatened — via Twitter, almost certainly illegally — to fire any Barstool employees who might attempt to unionize. He went viral with his impassioned rants against Covid-19 lockdowns. He feuded with Elon Musk on the behalf of meme-stocking, little-guy day traders. (He also heads an online outlet that has shamelessly stolen content and engaged in flagrant racism and misogyny, leading harassment campaigns against anyone who would dare call them out.)

Portnoy jokingly “announced” a presidential campaign on Twitter shortly after the poll’s release, but an actual run is highly unlikely. There’s no obvious reason to mount one: his presence in the poll is evidence enough of how the Republican Party has become the party of Barstool Sports.

A half-decade ago, the originally Boston-based site and its rabid fan community wouldn’t have scanned as “political” at all. But now, its proudly Neanderthal, reactionary ethos aligns perfectly with the side of our political binary that Trump reconfigured: the one whose common denominator is a tooth-and-nail, middle-finger unwillingness to accept liberal social norms.

If you looked at Portnoy circa 2010 — a budding bro-entrepreneur, popping champagne with models in cheesy photo shoots — you’d have to squint pretty hard to see a potential Republican standard-bearer. If you look now, it’s hard not to. It’s commonplace by now to observe that the Trump presidency “changed everything” for Republicans, from conventional wisdom on policy to how their internal politics are conducted. But first and foremost, it changed the face the party presented to the world. Where onetime nominees like Mitt Romney and John McCain tried and failed to subordinate cultural grievance to a more professionalized, inclusive style of politics, Trump succeeded by placing it right on the front of the tin. And when he casually dismantled that old fusion of free-market economic fervor and country-club traditionalism, Barstool was ready.

The rise of the “Barstool Republican,” to coin a phenotype, doesn’t necessarily explain Trump. It is, however, a useful way to understand what’s happened to American politics without constantly invoking the former president’s name. Portnoy’s devotees aren’t MAGA fanatics or Q fans who live to torment liberals, and they’re certainly not part of the GOP’s evangelical base. (One could imagine the last thing they’d want is a Supreme Court that strikes down Roe.) But the Barstool Republican now largely defines the Republican coalition because of his willingness to dispense with his party’s conventional policy wisdom on anything — the social safety net, drug laws, abortion access — as long as it means one thing: he doesn’t have to vote for some snooty Democrat, and, by proxy, the caste of lousy deans that props up the left’s politically-correct cultural regime.

The backlash to liberal domination of pop culture and the past decade’s transformation of speech norms created the Barstool Republican long before Portnoy’s name was bandied about in jest as a political candidate. And if you’ve been paying attention, their cultural revolution dates back to a time when such antics were more likely to get you kicked out of Mar-a-Lago than installed as its lifelong “El Presidente.”


Lost in the annals of a time when culture wars weren’t quite as central to our national politics is a nomenclature that now seems almost quaint: the so-called “South Park Republican.”

As far back as 2001, the gadfly conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan was using the term to describe members of his political tribe who shared the anti-P.C., socially libertarian views of “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Stone and Parker, true to form, loudly protested their hatred of both major parties. Still, the label stuck, inspiring sparring New York Times columns and even a book-length exploration of the concept by conservative writer Brian C. Anderson.

In the political climate of the mid-2000s, the concept’s appeal was obvious: As Gen X-ers and younger Baby Boomers entered the ranks of the political elite, it made sense that they would dispense with the blue-blooded stuffiness and social conservatism of the Reagan-Bush imperium in favor of a vaguely countercultural, post-Sixties tolerance. W traded his father’s country-club affect for a pair of cowboy boots, but he wasn’t fooling anyone: The cultural energy in the Republican Party, to the extent that it had any, was in its feather-ruffling libertarian wing, whose influence would soon reach its zenith with the self-proclaimed Ron Paul Revolution. But like so many would-be revolutions, this one was denied — or at least delayed and mutated.

Paul’s 2012 bid to become the Republican Party’s presidential standard-bearer fizzled out in spectacular fashion, failing to convert internet hype into any meaningful primary support. Romney won the nomination and invited the youthful Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan along for the ride (whose rad workout gear and politically inscrutable love of Rage Against the Machine, alas, failed to inspire a Romney-Ryan youth movement).

Crashing on the rocks of both Barack Obama’s megawatt cultural celebrity and the looming coronation of Jeb Bush as the post-“autopsy” face of the GOP, the Rude Republican cohort was at loose ends — until an unlikely salvation came in the form of a 6’3” reality show host and frequent Howard Stern guest descending his golden escalator into the first paragraph of 21st-century American history.

Trump was at first an uneasy fit for both the more culturally-sophisticated, libertarian-leaning members of the Republican coalition as well as their staid religious counterparts. But at the same time he was hotwiring Republican culture and pushing it to the limits of street-legality, anti-P.C. critics saw another revolution happening within liberal politics — and, by the transitive property, pop culture writ large. In their eyes, Hillary Clinton’s campaign represented the triumph of a pro-establishment cultural nanny state that rejected Obama’s attempted de-escalation of the culture wars in favor of a rigid new etiquette of social justice: A rainbow flag hoisted, in effect, over the Bushes’ Kennebunkport compound.

One of Trump’s early adopters articulated the mindset perfectly in August 2015, back when Jeb! was still his closest primary threat: “I am voting for Donald Trump. I don’t care if he’s a joke. I don’t care if he’s racist. I don’t care if he’s sexist. I don’t care about any of it. I hope he stays in the race and I hope he wins. Why? Because I love the fact that he is making other politicians squirm. I love the fact he says shit nobody else will say, regardless of how ridiculous it is.”

No points for guessing the author: Dave Portnoy, birthing the Barstool Republican with a single 200-word blog post. Trump transformed the political landscape by tapping into a powerful desire for freedom from criticism or censure — a desire that Portnoy shared, and which has only grown more intense and widespread as the panopticon of social media becomes the primary stage for not just national politics, but civic life at every level.

In a column this February for The Week, the Catholic social conservative writer Matthew Walther referred to “Barstool conservatives” as primarily sharing a “disdain for the language of liberal improvement, the hectoring, schoolmarmish attitude of Democratic politicians and their allies in the media, and, above all, the elevation of risk-aversion to the level of a first-order principle by our professional classes.” In other words: culture-war issues.

Oddly enough, despite the inherent thirst for conflict that it brings, the ascent of Barstool-ism within the Republican Party can be chalked up to ideological diversity within the GOP. What could unite free-market libertarians, revanchist Catholics, Southern evangelicals, and working-class Reagan Democrats but their shared hatred of… actual Democrats?

With that as the party’s guiding principle, and no clear policy agenda to speak of — the 2020 RNC literally did not have a new policy platform — those willing to trash the Democratic cultural regime most loudly and consistently are firmly in command, with more staid Republicans forced to at least provide cover, if not actively follow their cues.

They’re forced to defend freshman North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn in the face of his attention-seeking tweets and allegations of sexual harassment from his (very recent) college days, while he ranks in the top 10 members of Congress in missed votes. They’re forced to defend Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz as he faces his own allegations of sexual impropriety — not to mention his frat-boy antics, like showing up to Congress in a gas mask in the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic. They’re forced to defend Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert as she fends off complaints from constituents about her “embarrassing” freshman term in Congress, after winning a primary and general election largely on the strength of her, well, bar ownership.

So just as anti-P.C., vaguely amoral Barstool-ism can be a strength, it can also be a weakness. In a media environment built to reinforce and intensify one’s ideological beliefs, being on the attack all the time can leave you in an exhausting state of constant defense. Yes, it can galvanize — nearly 75 million people voted to re-elect Donald Trump, the Stoolie-in-chief — but it can also exasperate and infuriate in turn — a record 81 million Americans voted for Trump’s purposely less-pugilistic opponent, Joe Biden. It also runs the risk of all novelty: that people might just bore of it. Yesterday’s provocation becomes today’s status quo, and in turn tomorrow’s epic cringe.

When Republican voters made Trump their presidential nominee in 2016, they chose gloves-off culture war over either Jeb Bush’s earnest compromise or the imitations of a careerist provocateur like Sen. Ted Cruz. Trump tapped into a very real dissatisfaction in the American electorate with the liberal status quo around speech and culture, and reaped both the attendant rewards and backlash. Someone like Dave Portnoy is, if not a viable presidential candidate, at least a credible successor to the role of the office’s last Republican occupant: Trump, Gaetz, Boebert, Cawthorn and their ilk all share Portnoy’s single-minded obsession with scoring headlines and affirming their constituents’ cultural identities at any cost.

In a media-obsessed world, it’s a powerful, intoxicating skill. And now that it’s proven a viable pathway to electoral success, Republicans are — perhaps wisely — clinging to it for dear life. As a creation of Judd Apatow, the 21st century’s great dorm-room comedy auteur, once said: “Pandora doesn’t go back in the box, he only comes out.”

Democrats set to pare down gun control bills in aim for unity

Senate Democrats are struggling for the total unity they need on major infrastructure and elections bills. Their gun control point man is determined to avoid that kind of quicksand.

Instead, Democrats are preparing to vote on a scaled-down guns bill — most likely a curtailed plan to boost background checks for firearm buyers. The goal is to unite the party and pick up a limited number of Republican votes, even as their effort appears headed towards the same doomed fate as previous proposals to curb gun violence. Despite the all-but-certain GOP filibuster facing Democrats on guns, they’re well aware that a unified 50-vote Senate majority is the only way to put unmitigated political pressure on their opponents.

It’s a stark contrast with Democrats' approach to their sweeping elections package, which lacks total support from their Senate caucus and is unlikely to win any Republican votes when it comes to the floor this week. But it’s just a matter of math in the evenly divided Senate, according to Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who had spearheaded the latest round of gun control negotiations.

“I'm not interested in bringing a proposal to the Senate floor that can't even get 50. And the quickest way to get 50 is to keep all the Democrats together,” said Murphy.

Rather than put up House-passed bills that established universal background checks and closed other loopholes, Democrats are leaning towards scheduling a vote next month on legislation increasing the number of online and gun show transactions covered by federal background checks. Unlike the House-passed gun bills, Senate Democrats are betting such legislation could unite them and even tempt Republicans to join them.

If the legislation fails as expected, a show of unity among Democrats would send an “important message to the American people” on where senators stand on gun control, said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).

After initial optimism for a compromise, the collapse of the latest round of bipartisan gun control negotiations last week refocused Murphy’s attention on a package that could keep his entire caucus together. He’s aiming for the show of force that Democrats displayed on bills like the Paycheck Fairness Act, a gender pay-gap bill that had the support of every majority-party senator even as Republicans blocked it.

Murphy is still talking with Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), he said, about “some ideas that would involve the expansion of background checks without getting all the way to universal." He said he's also working toward a way to enact broader background checks for "commercial sales that would be attractive to a cross-section of Republicans.”

Such legislation would be designed to address current loopholes in the federal system that allow some gun sales to occur without a background check. Federal law only requires sales from licensed dealers, importers and manufacturers to undergo a background check, creating a gap that gun control advocates have long pushed to close.

Given the unregulated nature of the transactions, few estimates are available on the number of sales completed without a background check. But a 2015 survey of gun owners published in the Annals of Internal Medicine estimated 13 percent of owners who bought a gun in the previous two years did so without a check.

Online sales on Craigslist-like websites and sales at gun shows might not be covered under existing law, for example, so Murphy said he's aiming for legislation that would cover “any stranger-to-stranger sale.”

Even if senators were to strike a compromise, though, a scaled-back bill could face skepticism among gun control groups that have long fought for more stringent checks and were eager for change after President Joe Biden won the White House.

“There would likely be varying degrees of support in the gun violence prevention movement for a commercial sales bill as an incremental first step to addressing gun violence in all of its forms," said Christian Heyne, vice president of policy at the gun-control advocacy group Brady. "But it must reject any dangerous gifts to a gun lobby that puts profits over people."

And after years of bruising fights over gun proposals, other Senate Democrats were skeptical that any proposal on the issue could garner meaningful GOP support even if Murphy can find a bill that wins over his caucus' liberals and centrists.

“We have a fairly good prospect for Democratic unity," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). "But keeping 60 votes is another question right now."

The last time the Senate considered a background checks bill, in 2013, it also sought to expand the system to include online and gun show sales. That effort by Toomey and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to broker a guns deal failed to break a filibuster and won only four Republican votes while losing four Democrats.

Murphy, however, is convinced that this year can be different.

Eight years ago, Murphy said, there was “only one single Republican who was willing to talk about expanding background checks — Pat Toomey.” But now “there are multiple potential Republican partners,” he said, and “we're closer [to], not farther away from, getting to 60 in the Senate.”

Calling up a bill next month that carries every Democratic caucus member would be a major step in that direction. Still, pivotal Senate Republicans struck a less optimistic tone when asked about the Murphy-led negotiations.

“We're talking about gun shows. We'll see if it goes anywhere,” Graham said. Asked if a bill addressing gun shows could gain support from other Republicans, most of whom are resistant to gun control measures, Graham said the Toomey-Manchin framework from 2013 would not, but some “hybrid” might gain momentum.

Toomey was even more bearish. Asked if another commercial sales proposal could win over more Republicans, the retiring Pennsylvanian replied: “Honestly, it's unclear at this point.”

George Floyd’s murder transformed America

POLITICO takes measure of a nationwide reckoning on power, politics and race — from Corporate America and white activism, to a grieving Minneapolis neighborhood and ongoing police violence.

Driver crashes into Florida Pride parade; mayor says 1 dead

WILTON MANORS, Fla. — A driver slammed into spectators Saturday evening at the start of a Pride parade in South Florida, and an official says one person was killed and another seriously injured.

The pickup driver acted like he was part of the Wilton Manors Stonewall Pride Parade but then suddenly accelerated when he was told he was next, crashing into the victims, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said, according to WSVN-TV. Wilton Manors is just north of Fort Lauderdale.

One of the victims later succumbed to their injuries, Trantalis said.

News outlets reported that the driver of the pickup truck was taken into custody. Authorities did not immediately give details about the victims or say whether they believe the crash was intentional.

“This is a terrorist attack against the LGBT community,” Trantalis told reporters. “This is exactly what it is. Hardly an accident.”

Photos and video from the scene showed Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in tears while in a convertible at the parade. A spokesperson for Wasserman Schultz did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

Spectator Christina Currie told the South Florida SunSentinel that she was with her family at the start of the parade.

“All of a sudden there was a loud revving of a truck and a crash through a fence,” Currie said. “It was definitely an intentional act right across the lanes of traffic.”

Wilton Manors police tweeted Saturday night that the public is not in danger.

“A tragic incident occurred at today’s Stonewall event,” Wilton Manors Mayor Scott Newton said in a statement, according to WPLG-TV. “Out of respect for everyone involved, the parade has been canceled and a thorough investigation is being conducted.”

June is Pride Month, commemorating the June 1969 police raid targeting gay patrons at the Stonewall Inn in New York that led to an uprising of LGBTQ Americans and served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement.

No cross-endorsement, but Garcia-Yang matchup draws fire in New York mayor's race

NEW YORK — Andrew Yang stood in front of a roaring crowd and a Chinese lion-dancing troupe in Flushing and exhorted his most loyal constituency — Queens’ Asian-American community — to support his rival in the New York City mayor’s race along with him.

“Kathryn Garcia is a true public servant,” he said through a microphone, highlighting her years of public service. “For anyone listening to my voice right now, if you support me, you should rank Kathryn number two on your ballot.”

Garcia did not return the favor.

“Let me be very clear, I'm not co-endorsing,” she told another crowd an hour later outside of Stuy-Town in Manhattan. “We are campaigning together. We are promoting ranked choice voting.”

The declaration elicited awkward murmurs from the crowd and more than a few confused expressions. But after making a splash Friday night, when the two Democratic mayoral candidates announced they’d be campaigning together, Garcia told POLITICO Saturday she never planned to back her competitor and Yang never expected her to.

“That was not a surprise for him or for his team … they absolutely knew what I was gonna say,” she said as she sped downtown to the Staten Island Ferry inside her custom-wrapped green and blue campaign van.

Ranked-choice voting, where voters can list five candidates in order of preference on their ballots, is debuting on its largest U.S. stage this year has changed the game in New York’s typically bare-knuckle political arena. Under the system, alliances between candidates are a common strategy to win support from voters’ in their second- and third-place choices.

Saturday’s matchup underscored the unpredictable nature of the primary, less than three days away. The alliance has torn away the psychological security blanket afforded to a normal frontrunner leading in normal polls. And it’s put Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Borough President and former NYPD captain who’s been dominating those polls, on the attack.

“I think it's a level of hypocrisy,” he told reporters at a campaign stop in the Mount Eden neighborhood of the Bronx, focusing his ire on the former sanitation commissioner.

“We heard Kathryn talk about how Yang treated her as a woman. We heard how she felt — he did not have the experience and know-how to run the city,” he said. “He has criticized her. Their teaming up together is just a level of hypocrisy in my opinion.”

He then alleged the move was an attempt to make sure “candidates of color” were locked out of contention.

“They're saying that we can't trust a person of color to be the mayor of the City of New York, where the city is overwhelmingly people of color,” he said of Yang and Garcia, accusing them of deliberately announcing the agreement on Juneteenth, a holiday that celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S.

Garcia dismissed the accusation.

“No, Eric, we're winning. That's your problem,” she said. “And I think he's surprised that his traditional politics is not as effective … I don't see how I was a hypocrite. I don't see how Andrew was a hypocrite.”

“It’s actually consistently where both of us have been for this entire race,” she added later. “He's been saying, 'Put Kathryn number two,' and I've been saying, 'I'm not telling you who my number two is,' and that I do want people to rank their [own] ballots.”

Where she’s taken issue with Yang is when he was riding high in the early polls and said he’d hire her for a top-level position to help run his City Hall.

“I'm fine with taking his number two votes. I was offended by the deputy mayor [comment]. I was never running for that — I was running for mayor.”

In a statement, the Yang campaign told POLITICO that they were “excited to spend time with Kathryn Garcia today and our teams are looking forward to handing out 40,000 pieces of joint lit in each of our best neighborhoods for the next 3 days.”

Nearly a half-dozen of Adams’ supporters released statements razing the two candidates as well, including former Gov. David Paterson, City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo, Civil Rights Activist Ashley Sharpton and City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.

“Latino and Black New Yorkers did not organize and fight for generations so that they could finally put a working class person of color in Gracie Mansion, just to then have their victory taken from them by a backroom deal,” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said. “Both candidates should be ashamed of themselves.”

But in cities like San Francisco, where ranked-choice voting has been the norm for more than a decade, the alliances are a common feature for contenders who are not necessarily leading the pack.

"The classic RCV opportunity is where you have a person in the lead ... and two ideologically compatible contenders who, in the aggregate, out-poll the leader," Alex Clemens, a veteran Bay Area political strategist and lobbyist with Lighthouse Public Affairs, told POLITICO in April. "In a situation like that, it would make a great deal of sense for them to align.”

Despite the gang-up, Adams still appeared to be reveling in his frontrunner status as he soaked up support in another day of campaigning across the boroughs.

At Orchard Beach, he donned a yellow bathing suit and took a dip in the water as multiple beach-goers called his name.

“OK, now I’m really going to vote for him because he’s at the beach,” said a woman who joined the hordes asking to snap photos with the candidate throughout the day.

He attempted to clarify his earlier remarks about “people of color,” as Yang is of Asian descent and would be the first Asian-American mayor of New York.

“You know, they should be willing, if they’re gonna do some cross-endorsements, think of some of the other candidates in the field as well,” he said, referring to candidates like Maya Wiley and Dianne Morales who are Black and Afro-Latina. “But typical Yang.”

Wiley spent her day campaigning across the city, focusing on her proposals for mental health and wellness.

She told reporters that she had been invited to campaign with Yang and Garcia, but turned it down due to Yang’s recent comments about mentally ill New Yorkers at Wednesday’s debate.

“I couldn’t do it because I spent this entire campaign focused on how we serve people who are mentally ill, recognize that they have value and have human rights, and that they deserve services and support,” she said at a campaign stop in Rochdale Village in Queens. “After the comments Andrew made at the debate, I simply could not stand up for those comments.”

Both Yang and Garcia’s campaign denied that Wiley had been invited to campaign with the duo Saturday.

Wiley was referring to the debate hosted Wednesday by POLITICO, WNBC and Telemundo 47 where Yang said, “Mentally ill people have rights, but you know who else have rights? We do! The people and families of the city.”

Wiley countered that the city needs to take “a balanced approach” to handling mental health issues. She focused on the city’s approach of using police officers to arrest those experiencing mental health services.

“My own daughter was body slammed on a subway by a mentally ill person, just a few weeks ago, and that was a traumatizing event for her. But did she say, ‘Mom, I wish there was a police officer to take this mentally ill person in handcuffs?’ No, she said ‘Mom, how come we’re not providing and getting help and outreach to these folks?’” Wiley said.

“We need a continuum of care and services for folks, everything from mental health crisis intervention … [to] rehabilitation services for those who are also drug addicted, because that is a reality and a mental health issue of its own, and we have to make sure we have both a housing first strategy for that and also the emergency medical services we need,” Wiley said.

The candidate has had a surge of momentum on the left since winning the endorsement of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a host of other progressive luminaries that followed. But she has not been as strident as Morales, who vowed to cut the NYPD budget in half and fight against the construction of new jails after Rikers is closed.

Morales faced a campaign revolt that derailed the momentum she had just begun to gather weeks ago. Scott Stinger, the city comptroller who was also running in the progressive lane, was accused by two women of sexual misconduct — allegations he’s denied.

That left Wiley to pick up the progressive mantle in the waning weeks of the campaign. On Saturday, she received an endorsement from the Black Lives Caucus, the political arm of Black Lives Matter Greater New York.

“We’re four days out from choosing a mayor,” said Chivona Newsome, co-founder of the organization. “Being a Black woman, it’s important we break those concrete ceilings. Not only is it the first woman, it’s the first Black woman.”

Newsome said the caucus went with Wiley because of her policies — and despite the fact that she was once aligned with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Newsome issued an important caveat, though, in announcing the group’s backing.

“If Maya gets in there and she doesn’t live up to her campaign promises, we will bring hell and holy fire,” she said.

Bidens’ older dog, Champ, has died; German Shepherd was 13

WILMINGTON, Del. — President Joe Biden announced Saturday that Champ, the older of the family’s two dogs, had died “peacefully at home.” The German Shepherd was 13.

“He was our constant, cherished companion during the last 13 years and was adored by the entire Biden family,” Biden and first lady Jill Biden said in a statement posted to the president’s official Twitter account. The Bidens are spending the weekend at their home in Wilmington, Delaware.

The Bidens got Champ from a breeder after Biden was elected vice president in 2008. Champ was a fixture at both the vice president’s residence at the Naval Observatory and now the White House. In their statement, the Bidens said that when Champ was young, “he was happiest chasing golf balls on the front lawn of the Naval Observatory,” and that more recently he enjoyed “joining us as a comforting presence in meetings or sunning himself in the White House garden.”

“In our most joyful moments and in our most grief-stricken days, he was there with us, sensitive to our every unspoken feeling and emotion,” the Bidens said.

Champ’s passing leaves the Bidens with their younger German Shepherd, Major, whom the family adopted from the Delaware Humane Society in 2018.

The Bidens could occasionally be seen walking their two dogs on the White House South Lawn, and the dogs sometimes would join the president on trips to Camp David or visits home in Delaware.

Major has drawn headlines for his bad behavior in the past. Major caused Biden to suffer a foot injury in November, after the then-president-elect tripped over the younger dog while they were playing. Major and Champ were brought home to Delaware at one point, and Major went through training after the younger dog had two separate biting incidents at the White House and an unknown dog appeared to have pooped in a White House hallway.

Champ, who showed his age in recent months in his graying fur and slower gait, was often a more tranquil presence.

The Bidens are expected to bring a cat to the White House to join the family sometime soon.

Guinea declares end to latest Ebola outbreak

DAKAR, Senegal — Guinea has declared an end to an Ebola outbreak that emerged in February and killed 12 people, according to the World Health Organization.

The latest outbreak was the first to emerge in Guinea since a deadly outbreak from 2014 to 2016 killed more than 11,300 people in West Africa. That originated in the same region before spreading to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Guinea’s latest outbreak was declared Feb. 14 after three cases were detected in Gouecke, a rural community in the southern N’zerekore prefecture. There were 16 confirmed and seven probable cases.

“I commend the affected communities, the government and people of Guinea, health workers, partners and everyone else whose dedicated efforts made it possible to contain this Ebola outbreak,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

“Based on the lessons learned from the 2014–16 outbreak and through rapid, coordinated response efforts, community engagement, effective public health measures and the equitable use of vaccines, Guinea managed to control the outbreak and prevent its spread beyond its borders.” The U.N. said it will continue to provide post-illness care.

The CDC welcomed the news in a statement.

“I commend the government and first responders in Guinea for ending the country’s Ebola outbreak,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. “Our heartfelt sympathies are with the people who lost loved ones to this disease. CDC remains committed to supporting survivor programs and helping strengthen global preparedness and response capacities that can prevent or extinguish future Ebola outbreaks.”