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Audrey Hale attended the Covenant School in Nashville as a child before returning Monday morning as Aiden Hale to murder three 9-year-olds, the principal, a substitute teacher, and a custodian.

Why a Glenn Youngkin Presidential Candidacy Makes Sense for the Republican Party

Politico -

RICHMOND, Va. — People, please, implored the Republican governor of Virginia: Let us “set aside acrimony” and finger-pointing and all the “mental gymnastics of partisanship” that combine to make people so tired and cynical about “politics as usual.”

Before setting all that aside, however, Glenn Youngkin had some work to do: In the very same speech to the General Assembly in which he urged bipartisan comity, he blamed Democratic predecessors for “systematically lowered” standards for student achievement, “soft on crime” policies that led to rising murder rates, and outsourcing the state’s energy future to “radical bureaucrats in California.”

A politician who seems to speak from both sides of the mouth is hardly a rare phenomenon. More uncommon, however, is to find one who does so with cheerful ebullience. Youngkin does it without reading the cue cards — centrist-sounding appeals to bipartisanship in this paragraph, right-wing bongo drums in the next — so clumsily that a listener is in pain.

It’s a matter of taste, to be sure, but many people do not find Youngkin painful. His approval ratings among Virginians is at 58 percent, according to a recent Roanoke College poll. Those who recoil at his rhetorical contradictions and the evident calculation behind them are heavily concentrated here around the state capitol: Legislators who resent what they regard as his unseemly haste in pursuing national ambitions, or local reporters stiffed by a governor who doesn’t much care about their questions.

When politicians can play both ends of the keyboard — sounding notes of grievance and aspiration with equal fluency — they often go far. This spring will likely force a decision by Youngkin about how far, and how fast, he wants to try to go. Should he run for president, even as he was only elected governor, his first foray into politics, less than a year and a half ago?

The reasons to be skeptical are fairly simple. The Republican donor and operative class that wants to put Trump out of their misery for good — the people Youngkin will need if he runs — are worried that the field of candidates will grow too large, dividing the anti-Trump vote. Youngkin’s biography, a wealthy private-equity executive known for his earnest religiosity, conveys a superficial resemblance to Mitt Romney. The 2012 nominee was an establishment natural and may have won some suburban independents that Donald Trump never could — but hardly enough to compensate for his lack of populist energy.

The reasons Youngkin could win over the voters Romney could not — and be an intriguing addition to the field — are more complex. Republicans are divided over the question of division. Do people want an end to the politics of conflict and bombast represented by Trump and his one-time protégé, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis? Or is exploiting the alleged cultural and ideological excesses of the Democratic left the path to defeating President Joe Biden? Youngkin’s potential appeal is that it isn’t necessary to decide — just say yes to both questions.

At first blush, Youngkin attracted national notice for one main reason: He showed that he could harness the coalition of voters who like Donald Trump without having his own reputation and candidacy be hijacked by the former president. His success seemed fueled in significant measure by the national pollical climate and the self-inflicted wounds of his normally skilled opponent, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

At second blush, it seems clear that Youngkin’s ascent owes to more than a flukish convergence of circumstances. In terms of political skills, he is plainly as talented as other Republicans hoping to halt Trump’s return as the party’s nominee next year — but talented in different ways. Near-term, Youngkin has many obstacles. If he surmounted them on the way to the GOP nomination, the McAuliffe experience leaves little doubt he would be a formidable opponent to President Joseph Biden or another Democratic nominee.

The contrast with DeSantis is telling. The Florida governor’s ascent has been powered in large measure by his zeal at cultural and ideological scab-picking, such as his battles with the Walt Disney Company over the state’s bill banning public schools from discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity before fourth grade. The appeal is essentially Trumpism without Trump.

Youngkin, too, regularly wades into the cultural politics swirling around public education, including such topics as whether schools teach racial history. He’s scored local high schools in Northern Virginia for being slow to tell students they won merit scholarship awards, allegedly because school officials thought these violated principles of equity. During his election, he went to battle with school officials in Loudoun County for their handling of sexual assault on a student in a girl’s bathroom by a male classmate wearing a skirt. Like DeSantis, he often goes on favored platforms like Fox News to talk about these issues.

Unlike DeSantis, however, he also pivots at other moments to sound like a Republican version of Bill Clinton’s 1990s centrism. He says the GOP must avoid exclusionary rhetoric and ideological litmus tests. “What I’d seen in Virginia, and I think I see across this nation, is we in fact have to bring people into the Republican Party, we have to be additive, not [rely on] subtraction.” (For more from the Youngkin interview, see my colleague Daniel Lippman’s report.)

In an age when many politicians emphasize mobilization—firing up voters who are already natural supporters with grievance-based appeals —Youngkin said his experience shows politicians must also revive the art of persuasion.

Virginia is a state where most statewide races trended Democratic in recent years. “People thought it was purple,” Youngkin said, but in fact “it was pretty darn blue….It required us to, yes, bring new people in, to persuade a number of folks who might not have ever voted for a Republican in their lives.”

The reality is that Youngkin is less an updated version of Mitt Romney than he is of someone who actually became president, George W. Bush. Apparently by chance rather than design, what Youngkin articulates is something very much like “compassionate conservatism,” the credo that got Bush elected in 2000 and then went into retreat as he became a war president after 9/11 and the Iraq War. That is reflected in Youngkin’s prominent advocacy of improved state mental health services — “Nobody has been spared this crisis” — and a state partnership with the impoverished and predominantly Black city of Petersburg, just south of the capital.

Like Bush early in his national career, Youngkin combines the background of a wealthy elite with an affable jockish sensibility — Youngkin played Division I basketball at Rice — that helps with populist messaging. As with Bush, his political persona is intertwined with a plainly sincere if showy religiosity. “Can I say grace real quick?” he asked during a recent interview. Assured by his more secular visitors this was fine, he spoke aloud a minute-long prayer to the Heavenly Father, thanking him for the meal of fried chicken tacos and seeking his blessing for the “General Assembly members and the work we are about to do.”

As he ponders a presidential run, Youngkin presumably is seeking guidance from a higher power than political journalists. Even so, the political press has an obvious interest in his answer: A Youngkin candidacy would be an entertaining addition to the 2024 race. And it would test the hypothesis that there is a future for a brand of GOP politics that lies somewhere between the nihilism of Trumpism and the pallor of Romneyism.

‘He’s done a great job’: Youngkin praises would-be rivals

Politico -

RICHMOND, Va.— As Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin ponders a 2024 presidential campaign, he is not exactly sharpening his sword against potential GOP rivals.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis? “He’s done a great job,” Youngkin said in a recent interview here. “If you look at Florida, he’s done a great job.” Referencing his own efforts to bring economic development to Virginia, in which employers are sometimes making a choice between the two states, “He’s a tough competitor.”

As for former president Donald Trump, who will surely in due course have cutting words for Youngkin if the Virginian decides to compete for the Republican nomination, “I think there were many things that Donald Trump progressed on a policy standpoint that were extremely good,” Youngkin said, citing “things like manufacturing in America, and standing strong on the international stage, and bringing down taxes in order to fuel economic growth.”

Any criticism at all of those tumultuous Trump years? “Well, I think what you say and how you say it,” Youngkin offered delicately. “I think there is a chance to disagree with people without being disagreeable. I don’t call people names. [Avoiding insults] is just one of the things I believe is appropriate. We just have different styles.”

In an age of snarling politics, Youngkin is trying to decide if the 2024 field has room for a different style. While he draws a contrast with Trump, Youngkin shot to national prominence in GOP circles largely on the strength of his deft handling of Trump in his 2021 victory. He gained the former president’s support — and won handily in Trump-backing precincts—but effectively rebuffed Democratic efforts to tie him closely to the former president. Youngkin, a wealthy former private-equity executive and political novice, beat former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who had been a well-known national Democrat for 25 years.

Now, as winter turns to spring, Youngkin is in the midst of a prolonged and even anguished decision-making process about whether the moment is right for a presidential run, according to people close to his deliberations, as well as Virginia and national operatives familiar with his decision-making.

Pushing him forward are the appeals of people who want what they perceive as a winning alternative to Trump and DeSantis — as well as the historical examples of Trump and former president Barack Obama, who showed that this is an era that rewards people who seize their moment rather than devote years to checking traditional boxes. 

Holding him back are doubts about whether there is sufficient fluidity in the Republican field to accommodate what would start as a somewhat longshot candidacy. In addition, a presidential flop could mar what has been a strong start to his governorship. 

On the day of the Youngkin interview, it was clear from conversations with legislators that many are derisive about his presidential ambitions after a short time in office. Local reporters scoff irritably about his national interviews while being often inaccessible to people covering his official Virginia duties. (Youngkin's team noted that he's done more than 100 one-on-one interviews with Virginia outlets.)

Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder — a Democrat who says he likes Youngkin personally — recalled the home-state backlash to his own short-lived 1992 campaign. In an interview, he said Youngkin would be making a mistake to run: better to build a local record and bide his time and perhaps be selected as vice presidential nominee or run in 2028.

For now, his interview and travel schedule certainly seems like someone who wants to keep his options open — and is enjoying the attention. In his two years in office, he's done around 80 national TV interviews, including numerous Sunday shows, and is headlining a number of prominent events in the next few weeks, including the Bush Institute leadership forum in Dallas, the Heritage Foundation’s 50th anniversary summit at Mount Vernon and a speech at the Reagan Library.

Other highlights of the Youngkin interview — conducted over fried chicken tacos at a Main Street diner near the Capitol—included:

— His calculation about running: Unsurprisingly for the politician he’s become, Youngkin called his name being thrown into the mix “a humbling, humbling, humbling conversation” but said his full attention was on Virginia. But implicit in his answer was that by turning a purple state red, he is trying to create a Virginia model for the Republican party to win nationally.

“Virginia is a really good case study on the nation,” he said. “People thought it was purple, it was pretty darn blue. And what it takes is, first of all, a platform that is true to your ideals. You can’t deviate because people know, they can look at you and say, is he really going to do what he said he’s going to do?”

Youngkin implicitly criticized right wing Republican politicians who just play to the base, saying: “What I’d seen in Virginia, and I think I see this across the nation, is we in fact have to bring people into the Republican Party, we have to be additive, not [rely on] subtraction, and we can’t win otherwise.”

— He never expected to run for office in the first place: In a nation that has seen inequality surge in recent years, Youngkin has had a true rags to riches story, going from helping his family out by working as a dishwasher as a 15 year old in Virginia Beach to attending Rice University on a college basketball scholarship to then becoming a captain of finance. “I never dreamed that I would have a chance to take over from the founders of Carlyle and never dreamed I’d be sitting here with you all as the 74th governor of the Commonwealth,” he said.

— The mental health crisis: Youngkin said that no one has been spared from the profound mental health crisis in society that has manifested itself in huge challenges in schools, the workplace and families and marriages. He’s made the issue a top priority of his legislative agenda by asking for more than $230 million as part of a three-year plan for the state’s behavioral health system to try to stem the tide of despair.

“Our mental health crisis that we’re in is more acute than we could possibly ever imagine,” he said somberly. “Because of the base-level issues that we’ve had with the pandemic on top, and then when you marry that with the fact that our behavioral health system is so ill equipped, and I don’t know nationally, but I know Virginia, and we are overwhelmed.”

— The hot-button issue of education: Youngkin said that Republicans aren’t on their back heels anymore when it comes to education since parents want to have a say in their children’s education and are mad that many public schools were closed during much of the Covid pandemic. He said that there’s been “a systematic reduction of expectations” that damaged many students, especially those from minority, poor or immigrant backgrounds.

“Parents stood up for a moment and said, ‘It’s all wrong,’ ” he said. “They were all upset because they had been pushed out of their children’s lives and bureaucrats and politicians had told them ‘we know better, go over there, and we’re not going to let you have a role.’ That was the issue.”

Youngkin said that the infamous comment that his 2021 opponent McAuliffe made during the campaign (“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach kids”) did not surprise him.

“When my opponent said what he said, I wasn’t shocked, because I knew that’s what he believed,” he argued. “But I do believe that many of the independents and the Democrats who had kind of hoped that’s not what they believed, all of a sudden recognize that no, that is what the liberal left wing and the Democrats believe, that they know better than parents. And I do think that that was a very important part of the clarification of our message.”

— Loudoun county sexual assaults: Youngkin drew attention in our interview to the recent sexual assault cases in Loudoun county, where a public school superintendent didn’t tell parents about a male student who had sexually assaulted a young woman and moved the student to another school rather than prosecuting the person. (The student then sexually assaulted another student at the new school.) Youngkin initiated an investigation, which led to a grand jury and an indictment against the superintendent.

“Everybody said that I was fighting the social culture wars,” he said. “Cover ups are not part of what we do in Virginia. … We’re gonna stand up for parents, we’re gonna have transparency, we’re gonna have high expectations, we’re gonna have the best standards in the nation, we’re gonna go from last to first again.”

Controversial judge tests New Hampshire senators’ clout

Politico -

New Hampshire’s two Democratic senators are lobbying with uncharacteristic zeal on an issue dividing their caucus — confirming a judicial nominee under scrutiny for his handling of a sexual assault case at a prestigious boarding school.

Now, with Michael Delaney’s nomination to the First Circuit Court of Appeals nearing a committee vote, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan are going all out to get him confirmed — in what’s shaping up as a referendum on the duo’s clout in the chamber.

At caucus lunches and in individual conversations with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Shaheen and Hassan are advocating hard for Delaney, pushing back on concerns about his work defending the boarding school St. Paul’s in a civil lawsuit brought by a student who was sexually assaulted by another student.

Several Democrats are privately balking at the nomination. And it would be a second significant loss for the New Hampshire senators, after their unsuccessful effort to dissuade President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party from ending New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary in 2024. While colleagues speak reverently of the two Democrats, Delaney will test just how much influence they really wield.

Some in the caucus have started to quietly question why Shaheen and Hassan, who are known for their collaborative natures and prevailing in tough Senate races, are going to the mat for a nominee with such a controversial record. And even the duo’s best efforts may not be enough.

“There’s a lot of concerns that are being aired from groups that I really respect. I’m going to listen to them, I’m going to read their statements and things to me. I’m going to learn more,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a member of the Judiciary Committee. He also described Hassan and Shaheen as “two dear friends whose judgment I trust.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), another member of the panel who has spoken to both senators, was also noncommittal: “I haven’t decided how I’m going to vote for him yet. That’s all I’m going to say at the moment.”

It’s a rare step into the spotlight for the Democratic pair of Granite Staters, who are known more for cutting bipartisan deals than stirring up trouble. But when it comes to Delaney, they’re not holding back.

In making her case to confirm Delaney, Shaheen said in a brief interview that she’d told the caucus about “what a great job he did as attorney general and in private practice” and wants “to correct the misinformation that’s been put out there about him.”

Concerns about Delaney extend beyond the legislative branch. Outside groups that typically align with the administration have expressed deep concerns or even outright opposition to Delaney. In addition, officials at the White House were uneasy about Delaney but felt they couldn’t pick a fight with the New Hampshire senators after the state lost its first-in-nation primary status, according to a person who was told by the White House.

Biden pressed to reorganize the primary calendar on Dec. 1; Delaney was nominated on Jan. 18. Shaheen pushed back on any suggestion that the two events could be linked: “no connection at all.”

“The President nominated Michael Delaney based on his three decades of legal experience, including his time as a front-line prosecutor combating violent crime, and his leadership fighting human trafficking," said White House spokesperson Andrew Bates. “As is typical for judicial nominations, the President consulted with Senators Shaheen and Hassan; it would be very unusual if he hadn’t. Then the President made his call, and is standing shoulder to shoulder with New Hampshire’s Senators in support of this qualified nominee.”

It’s also not unusual for home-state senators to have substantial sway over judicial nominees. In this case, Delaney would be New Hampshire’s pick on the New England-based First Circuit.

While Shaheen and Hassan tout Delaney’s credentials, some Senate Democrats privately wonder why the two don’t cut their losses and go with another option. And there’s increased anxiety over nominees lately, given Democrats’ focus on confirming judges in divided government and the withdrawal of two high-profile nominees earlier this month.

“Nobody seems to have a clear idea as to what explains their intensity,” said one Democratic senator, granted anonymity to speak candidly about the situation. “Except maybe they’re out on a limb. Maybe there’s a certain amount of competitive pride. They are such really great senators, you know, maybe there’s somebody else who could go right through.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), however, gets where Shaheen and Hassan are coming from. In his words, it’s a “small-state thing.”

“If it were Rhode Island, I’d feel the same way,” he said. “You don’t get very many. If you do and you know the people [who are nominated] it’s much more tangible and real than if it’s just someone picked by your appointments advisory committee out of a stack of resumes.”

Delaney’s representation of St. Paul’s School in a sexual assault case is perhaps his greatest obstacle. Delaney filed a motion that would have allowed the plaintiff, who was a minor at the time, to remain anonymous only if she and her representatives did not speak about the case publicly, spurring accusations that he was trying to silence an alleged victim of assault. Senate Republicans made the case a top focus during his confirmation hearing and Delaney is not expected to get any GOP votes in committee, where Democrats enjoy a one-seat majority when every senator is in attendance.

But it’s more than just the school sexual assault case. Delaney has also drawn scrutiny from Democrats for signing on to a 2005 legal brief defending parental notification in abortion cases.

A committee vote on Delaney’s nomination has been delayed for weeks, partly because of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) prolonged absence as she recovers from shingles. That gives the New Hampshire senators more time to convince their colleagues, although it’s left the nomination hanging in limbo for a while.

“His entire career has demonstrated a commitment to justice,” Hassan said in an interview Tuesday. “He started sexual assault response teams as attorney general. And he has just extraordinary support statewide, from plaintiffs’ attorneys, from defense attorneys, from former New Hampshire Supreme Court Justices appointed by both parties.”

Yet Judiciary Committee Democrats aren’t the only senators who are on the fence. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said she’ll “review the full record if he’s voted out of committee.” And Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said he hasn’t begun considering the nomination.

Still, Democratic senators respect the hustle from Shaheen and Hassan. Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), a member of the Judiciary panel, said Delaney “couldn’t have two better advocates.” Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also supports the nominee.

And some Democrats say they’re surprised at the quandary that Delaney — and his backers — are now in. Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called Shaheen and Hassan’s advocacy “extraordinary. But it’s extraordinary the attacks that are coming at this nominee. So, you got to look at the wealth of support that this nominee has.”

Asked if he will still put Delaney up for a vote, Durbin replied: “It’s on the calendar.”

Schumer’s highway to the Catskills angers environmentalists

Politico -

NEW YORK — Thousands of New Yorkers escape the sweltering heat of the concrete jungle each summer by fleeing their Brooklyn brownstones and Upper West Side co-ops and driving west on Route 17, the winding highway leading to the cooler air of the Catskill Mountains.

The revival of the old Borscht Belt in recent years has come with increased traffic down the two-lane state highway — an issue that’s irked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who began a push over a decade ago to expand a nearly 50-mile stretch of Route 17.

Now, the project has new momentum under Gov. Kathy Hochul, one of many such proposals to benefit from the $1 trillion federal infrastructure package Congress approved in 2021. But supporters aren't celebrating yet. First, the project must overcome opposition from local and national environmental groups who say the addition of a third lane in both directions will increase the number of gas-guzzling vehicles zipping through the forested region.

“We're spending a billion dollars on 47 miles of highway expansion that don't need it, pumping an additional 2 million tons of greenhouse gasses” into the air through 2050, said Ramsay Adams, the executive director of the Catskill Mountainkeeper, a local environmental advocacy group fighting the widening project. “If it moves forward the way it seems to, it's going to be a problem. It's going to be an issue that I think a lot of us are gonna take up in the courts.”

After years of federal disinvestment, state transportation departments are actively working through a backlog of capital projects, many of which have been stuck for years awaiting viable funding sources. The bipartisan infrastructure law will deliver roughly $350 billion to state transportation departments for highway work over the next five years, the largest investment in roads and bridges in decades. New York expects to get $13.5 billion for highways and bridges, a 40 percent increase over the last five-year federal program.

The Biden administration initially attempted to place guardrails on how the new highway money is spent, releasing guidance encouraging states to prioritize road maintenance and upgrades over paving new lanes, but abandoned the effort amid fierce pushback from Republicans.

Absent federal intervention, many states continue to pursue highway widenings, though not without opposition. In Maryland, environmental groups have sued to stop the expansion of Interstate 270. Opposition is also building in New Jersey over a proposal to spend nearly $5 billion to expand eight miles of highway leading to the Holland Tunnel.

Efforts to stop such projects have had mixed results. Texas can move forward with the controversial expansion of Interstate 45, after federal officials closed a two-year civil rights probe of the project. Yet other transit departments have opted to shelve capacity upgrades following concerted pushback, including in Los Angeles.

Perhaps nowhere is this pressure to balance environmental goals and transportation needs felt more acutely than New York, where Democrats passed one of the most aggressive climate laws in the country in 2019 to cut greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.

In addition to the tension around the Route 17 expansion, New York City officials are facing pushback to a proposal to re-widen a portion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the deteriorating Robert Moses-era highway that cuts through the heart of several outer borough neighborhoods. City lawmakers have largely opposed the move and have called on state officials to help reimagine the busy thoroughfare to be less intrusive on surrounding communities.

Nearly 100 years later, city planners and politicians are still grappling with Moses’ transportation modernization efforts that — much like the Route 17 expansion of today — sought to ease travel by expanding local, congested streets. Except now the development of highways works directly against the state’s climate agenda.

“There's still a bias in the way the funding goes towards new projects and funding expansions and new roads,” said Felicia Park-Rogers, director of regional infrastructure projects at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a transportation advocacy group.

Hochul has dedicated up to $1 billion to “accelerate the conversion of the Route 17 corridor in Orange and Sullivan counties to Interstate 86, fueling transformative levels of economic growth in the region and improving quality of life by alleviating congestion,” according to her budget. The state is working on an environmental review of the proposal, which it plans to publish in 2025. The project has significant support from business leaders in the Hudson Valley, a swing area where Republicans recently picked up a House seat in the midterms.

Schumer called for the highway widening in 2006 amid a push by then-Gov. George Pataki to build five Las Vegas-style casinos in the area, which didn’t come to fruition. Proponents of the project today say the two-lane corridor has long failed to support population growth in the area and new economic development, including the recent opening of LEGOLAND in Orange County. It has the backing of the 17-Forward-86, a coalition of more than 200 local businesses and trade groups.

“They [the state] recognize these corridors where the safety is at risk, tourism is growing, people want to come and hike the mountains, get out of the city,” said Maureen Halahan, the co-founder of 17-Forward-86 and the president and CEO of the Orange County Partnership, a business development group. “Covid emptied the city for a while and a lot of people could work from everywhere — even without that, we were backed up for a long time.”

In 2021, Schumer said he personally met with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and called on him to prioritize federal resources toward the Route 17 expansion — warning the traffic “is bad enough now” and will worsen with time.

While expansion plans like Route 17 are often pitched as a way to relieve chronic congestion, different studies have shown that, over time, the traffic eventually returns — a concept known as “induced demand.”

Environmental advocates contend the project doesn’t align with the state’s own climate goals, with transportation accounting for the largest share of statewide carbon dioxide emissions. The state’s climate action plan, which outlines steps to achieve its emission-reduction mandate, calls for policies that encourage the electrification of vehicles, enhancements in public transportation and mobility-oriented development.

The state will assess the project's consistency with New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act as part of its environmental review, a spokesperson for Hochul said. They added the project would allow the road to meet interstate standards and includes improvements to interchanges, bridge replacements and upgrades to park-n-ride facilities, such as new charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.

In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams is facing strong pushback from Brooklyn lawmakers over his plan for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, which would increase open space around it, but could also add one more lane of traffic.

Elected officials representing neighborhoods surrounding the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway largely oppose an expansion, including Reps. Dan Goldman and Nydia Velázquez, Democrats representing parts of Brooklyn.

In an interview, Goldman said adding a third lane “will, in the short term, likely streamline some of the traffic issues, but in the long term, studies have shown that you're disincentivizing people to find alternative means of transportation and that is harmful to the environment.”

In February, Albany lawmakers pressed Marie Therese Dominguez, the commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, to take a more active role in the BQE, a 20-mile highway that is largely controlled by the state. So far, state officials have only committed to helping the city with its environmental review for the triple cantilever.

“We have really significant issues that we’ve been addressing across so many communities across New York,” Dominguez said.

Dominguez referenced an ongoing project to upgrade the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market, one of the largest food distribution centers in the world. The state received a $110 million grant from the federal infrastructure package, part of which will go toward traffic improvements and increased rail usage.

But with most of the federal money earmarked for big, shovel-ready projects, elected officials and advocates continue to press for more sweeping changes to how local transportation departments put together their capital plans.

“This highway is 20 miles, it’s a scar through the face of Brooklyn and Queens. We can’t make any changes to the center of this highway, the necessary changes, unless we do them everywhere,” state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, a Brooklyn Democrat, said at the February budget hearing. “Otherwise we’re not changing anything.”

Biden’s favorite Middle East ally is spoiling his democracy party

Politico -

Joe Biden’s second “Summit for Democracy” has been billed as a chance for the president to champion democracy and call out the evils of autocracy around the world.

Unfortunately for Biden, Benjamin Netanyahu preempted his programming this week.

The Israeli prime minister’s now-paused plan to defang the judiciary of one of America’s staunchest democratic allies has injected an inconvenient set of circumstances into Biden’s democracy celebration. Biden and his aides opposed the judicial overhaul and said so as much in public (and just as forcefully in private). But they remain unsettled by Netanyahu’s actions even as he has put the idea on hold.

On Tuesday night, Biden said Israel had gotten itself into “a difficult spot” and that he hoped Netanyahu “walks away from it.”

Netanyahu, however, released a rather defiant statement indicating he would press ahead with some form of judicial change and that Israel “makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends.”

Underlying the fear inside the White House was a sense that the Netanyahu-led far-right coalition now governing the once-stable democracy in the Middle East has authoritarian leanings. Those concerns have deepened as Washington tries to hold together a democratic alliance against dictatorships in places including Russia, China and Iran, an archrival of Israel.

There are domestic considerations as well. The turmoil in Israel has given Biden a foreign policy headache right in the run-up to the 2024 presidential race. A longstanding public backer of Israel, Biden now heads a party in which a growing number of members are openly critical of the country.

Some of those Democrats say Biden needs to set aside his affection and go beyond rhetoric to pressure Israel on everything from safeguarding democracy to establishing a Palestinian state.

“Joe Biden has personally made clear repeatedly that there’s going to be no consequences, so why should Netanyahu change his behavior based on anything the United States says?” said Matt Duss, a leading progressive voice and Middle East analyst who has advised Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on foreign policy.

Despite Netanyahu’s push for the judicial overhaul, Israel was invited to participate in the summit, the second of which Biden has convened since taking office. But the Israeli leader was not expected to attend the leader-level meetings that Biden will helm on Wednesday, White House aides said. A person familiar with the issue said that Netanyahu was instead slated to speak on a panel during the week, but it was not clear if even that was finalized.

The White House tried to tamp down tensions with Israel on Tuesday. The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, said Netanyahu would at some point be invited to Washington, although a White House spokesperson said no meeting had been decided. Aides said that while they were encouraged Netanyahu paused his plan for the judiciary, they were still in “wait and see” mode about whether he would return to them in the next session of the Knesset. Allies do not expect Biden to be hurt politically by his handling of the matter.

“Where he has expressed differences with Israel — on West Bank settlements and on a judicial overhaul that could weaken Israel’s democratic foundations — he is on solid ground with the vast majority of Americans, and those in his party,” said Dan Shapiro, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel under then-President Barack Obama. “I suspect any rival, from any side, would find this issue to be hardly worth taking on.”

Even before the judicial overhaul plan was introduced, the Biden administration had grown alarmed by Netanyahu’s coalition government, which includes several figures with racist, homophobic, misogynist and religiously extreme ideologies.

For Netanyahu, a veteran Israeli pol, it was a means of getting back into the prime minister’s office as he tries to evade corruption charges in Israel’s courts. But inside Biden world, it appeared to be more than just an alliance of convenience. Some of Netanyahu’s allies back legislation making it harder to remove him from office, and his statement Tuesday suggested he was worried that his coalition might fracture if he is seen as kowtowing to Washington.

Biden and Netanyahu have known each other for decades and share a personal warmth and familiarity. “Hey man, what’s going on?” is Biden’s standard greeting to Netanyahu, aides said.

But they also have had sharp differences.

Their ties were strained by Netanyahu’s 2015 speech to Congress in which he castigated the Iran nuclear deal worked on by the Obama administration, when Biden was vice president. And Biden has expressed private dismay that Netanyahu became such a fawning acolyte of ex-President Donald Trump and that Israel has largely stayed on the sidelines during Russia’s war on Ukraine.

White House aides arranged a call between the two men earlier this month with the hopes that Biden could nudge the prime minister toward abandoning his judicial overhaul.

Despite firm words from Biden, Netanyahu proceeded with the plan, rattling many American Jews concerned about Israel’s future. Administration officials, keenly aware of the importance of America's security relationship with Israel, proceeded carefully, both publicly and privately warning Netanyahu that he should seek a compromise with those who oppose the overhaul.

Over the weekend, Netanyahu fired his defense minister for criticizing the judicial plan. The White House released a statement that echoed its past ones, reminding Netanyahu that “democratic societies are strengthened by checks and balances, and fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support.”

Yet the huge protests were what appeared to have forced Netanyahu to back down, at least temporarily.

Ahead of the Summit for Democracy, White House aides say that Netanyahu’s decision to relent on the judicial reform push was proof that Israel’s democracy was responsive and worked.

But the push itself still raises questions about the future of Israeli politics and injects more uncertainty into an already unstable region.

Israel is hardly the only country invited to the summit facing internal strife. India, for example, has seen serious democratic backsliding under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Poland, too, is facing questions about its democratic strength, as are countries such as Mexico and Brazil. The United States’ own democracy has been tested in the wake of the Trump presidency.

But the tension with Israel is the one with the most direct ties to Biden’s own political future as he eyes a re-election decision and possible rematch with Trump.

Biden has long been a traditionalist on U.S.-Israel relations. He has remained close to reflexively pro-Israel advocacy organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He has declined to return the U.S. Embassy to Tel Aviv after Trump relocated it to Jerusalem. And he has refused to impose conditions on the billions of dollars in U.S. security assistance the United States provides to Israel.

Those moves by the president — who has also received the backing of the more progressive pro-Israel advocacy group J Street — has run counter to the budding sentiment within the Democratic Party.

A growing number of liberal voices are critical of the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians. And a Gallup poll released this month showed that Democrats’ sympathies in the Middle East now lie more with the Palestinians than the Israelis, 49 percent versus 38 percent

These are shifts that could prove an annoyance to Biden on the campaign trail.

“At the end of the day, this issue is not a voting issue for 99.999 percent of people, right?” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street. “But I don’t think the majority of the Democratic Party is going to be okay if Israel takes steps that provoke tremendous outbreaks of violence and lots of people are getting hurt. I don’t think they’ll be okay as Israel undoes its judicial independence and the underpinnings of its democracy.”


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