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Judge spikes DeSantis’s Florida redistricting map that axed minority district as candidate deadline nears

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s new congressional boundaries drawn by Gov. Ron DeSantis were blocked from being used in this year’s elections Wednesday by a circuit judge who ruled they discriminate against Black voters in North Florida.

The decision, certain to be appealed by the state, brings a new level of at least temporary chaos to this year’s election season, with candidate qualifying for congressional seats in Florida only a month away.

And because Democrats have such thin margins for control of Congress, any changes to congressional maps could have outsized influence in this year’s midterm elections —and therefore the fate of Biden’s agenda for the last two years of his presidency.

At the heart of the case is the current congressional district 5 held by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat whose seat stretches from Jacksonville to the Tallahassee area and includes Gadsden County, the state’s only majority Black county.

The new map, crafted by the Republican governor and approved by the Florida legislature last month, scatters more than 370,000 Black voters who had been in Lawson’s heavily Black, Democratic-leaning district across four North Florida districts.

None of the districts would have a large Black voting population and all four would be Republican-leaning, part of a push by the governor to expand the number of GOP members of Congress from Florida.

“I do find persuasive the arguments that were made about the diminishment of African-American votes….to the other districts where they’re now spreading,” said Judge Layne Smith, a DeSantis appointee, who issued his ruling after a three-hour hearing Wednesday.

Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, was among several Democrats who staged a brief protest last month just before the state House approved a congressional redistricting map advanced by Gov. Ron DeSantis
Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, was among several Democrats who staged a brief protest last month just before the state House approved a congressional redistricting map advanced by Gov. Ron DeSantis
Redistricting: Voters get fewer choices as Democrats and Republicans dig partisan trenches in redistricting

John Devaney, who argued the plaintiffs’ case for the Florida League of Women Voters and three minority advocacy organizations, said the DeSantis map left North Florida Black voters without enough voting strength to elect a candidate of their choice.

He argued the move violated Florida’s voter-approved Fair Districts constitutional amendments, which prohibit drawing legislative or congressional boundaries that for Black and Hispanic voters, “diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice.”

Midterm elections and control of Congress
Florida’s 27 congressional districts are currently split 16-11, with Republicans controlling most seats. The state is getting another district in Congress this year because of population gains in the 2020 census.

But with control of Congress at stake in this fall’s elections, DeSantis could emerge as a hero to Republicans nationally if he is seen as having helped boost the GOP’s chances of winning command because of enhanced numbers out of Florida.

Still, the news and data analysis site FiveThirtyEight, which is closely following redistricting across the nation, has called Florida’s congressional map “darn close to the most egregiously partisan map in the country.”

Jasmine Burney-Clark, founder of Equal Ground, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said Smith’s ruling follows an historic pattern.

“When government overreach tries to suppress Black voters, the courts are our last line of defense to preserve justice and equity,” Burney-Clark said.

She added, “No Floridian – including Governor DeSantis – is above the law. This is one step forward in the fight to protect Black voters.”

Census: US sees unprecedented multiracial growth, decline in the white population for first time in history

‘Classic cracking’ of Black voters
“It’s classic cracking,” Devaney said of the DeSantis map. “Let’s take that Black population and let’s split it up into four districts where they have no voting power. And that’s what we’ve got.”

He said it was important that Smith stop the plan from going into effect.

“Once an election occurs, there’s no do-over,” said Devaney, an attorney with the Democratic-allied, Washington, D.C. firm, Perkins Coie. “The harm is done. The only way to protect against that harm is to assure that a constitutional voting map is put in place before the election actually occurs.”

A North Florida map that keeps the congressional district 5 in its current, Jacksonville-to-Tallahassee contours was proposed in court testimony by Harvard University political scientist and redistricting expert Steven Ansolabehere. It’s similar to a plan that was approved by the Florida legislature but vetoed by DeSantis, action that led lawmakers to support the governor’s map last month.

Ansolabehere’s plan was put forward as a substitute map Smith said he will recommend using in his order, which will probably not be finalized until Thursday or Friday. Smith acknowledged wanting to give DeSantis-appointee Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Florida’s top elections official, adequate time to appeal.

The Tallahassee-area First District Court of Appeal could either take up the matter, or send the congressional redistricting case to the Florida Supreme Court.

“As Judge Smith implied, these complex constitutional matters of law were always going to be decided at the appellate level,” said Taryn Fenske, a DeSantis spokeswoman. “We will undoubtedly be appealing his ruling and are confident the constitutional map enacted by the Florida legislature and signed into law passes legal muster. We look forward to defending it.”

Lawson hailed Smith’s ruling.

“The judge recognizes that this map is unlawful and diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect representatives of their choice,” Lawson said. “DeSantis is wrong for enacting this Republican-leaning map that is in clear violation of the U.S. and state constitutions.

Time is tight
But all involved in the case agreed Wednesday that time is tight, with federal candidate qualifying set for June 13-17 and county elections supervisors saying they needed a map finalized by the end of this month so that precincts could be reconfigured and other matters settled.

The Florida League of Women Voters joined with Equal Ground Education Fund, Florida Rising Together, Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute and a handful of voters from across the state in seeking the injunction to stop the new CD-5 boundaries from going into effect, which effectively puts on hold the entire map.

Mohammad Jazil, attorney for Lee, the secretary of state, defended the approach by DeSantis and the legislature as constitutional and superior to the current wide-ranging district.

Jazil added that what the League of Women Voters and others are seeking relies on an interpretation of the state constitution’s prohibition against diminishing Black voting strength, which conflicts with federal equal protection standards.

While scattering Black voters in North Florida, the DeSantis congressional map creates 20 districts likely to elect Republicans, leaving eight considered Democratic leaning. Two of the four districts that have elected Black Democrats would be eliminated in the plan.

What is gerrymandering?: Redistricting means new winners and losers

John Kennedy is a reporter in the USA TODAY Network’s Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jkennedy2@gannett.com, or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Florida Gov. DeSantis’ new congressional map blocked by judge

Biden’s dilemma on inflation: Blaming the Republicans isn’t a winning strategy, analysts say

WASHINGTON – The White House’s initial strategy for dealing with inflation was to assure Americans that rising prices were a short-term problem fueled by the coronavirus pandemic.

But after inflation hit a 40-year highPresident Joe Biden is trying a different, two-pronged approach: Promise Americans that high prices are the administration’s top priority. Blame Republicans for failing to offer a plan to give Americans relief.

The problem with that line of attack: Democrats, not Republicans, are in charge in Washington. Blaming the party out of power for the current state of affairs is seldom a winning strategy, political analysts said.

“There’s just not a lot of evidence that these kind of arguments play to a president’s advantage,” said William Howell, political scientist at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. “In unified or divided government, presidents are held accountable for objective measures of the economy – fairly or not.”

President Joe Biden and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visit O'Connor Farms owners Jeff, left, and Gina O'Connor on May 11 in Kankakee, Ill.
President Joe Biden and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visit O’Connor Farms owners Jeff, left, and Gina O’Connor on May 11 in Kankakee, Ill.

Biden got a bit of good news Wednesday when the Labor Department reported that although inflation remained elevated in April, it eased off its 40-year high – a signal that the surge in consumer prices since last summer may have peaked.

Record gas prices and a baby formula shortage

Even so, overall consumer prices edged up 0.3% from March. Record-high gas prices – the average price per gallon was $4.40 on Wednesday, according to AAA – and a baby formula shortage add to the angst many American households feel.

Biden sought to reassure Americans that he understands the pain inflation inflicts.

“I come from a family where, when the price of gas or food went up, we felt it,” he said at the White House on Tuesday. “It was a discussion at the kitchen table.”

In a statement issued after the release of the latest figures on Wednesday, Biden said inflation remains “unacceptably high” and repeated that lowering prices is his administration’s “top economic priority.” He pointed to an initiative to partner with businesses to make high-speed internet more affordable for some low-income Americans as one example of what he’s doing to fight inflation.

Biden’s reassurance that higher prices are his administration’s top priority poses a dilemma for Democrats, who hold not only the White House but slim majorities in the House and the Senate. Inflation is likely to be the top issue in the midterm elections, and voters often punish the party in power for a bad economy.

‘NO SLAM-DUNK SOLUTION’: What can Joe Biden do to tame soaring inflation?

‘There’s a risk … that he appears out of touch’

Considering what’s at stake, Biden had no choice but to try to ease Americans’ concerns, Howell said, but in doing so, he guaranteed that ownership of the issue lies with Democrats.

“This is a matter of such central importance that it’s hard to pivot away from,” Howell said. “If he doesn’t own it, there’s a risk of it owning him, that he appears out of touch with very real concerns that Americans have about gas prices and the rising cost of groceries.”

Baby formula powder is harder to find since Abbott Nutrition issued a recall in February 2022 for select lots of Similac, Alimentum and EleCare formulas that were manufactured at an Abbott facility in Sturgis, Mich.
Baby formula powder is harder to find since Abbott Nutrition issued a recall in February 2022 for select lots of Similac, Alimentum and EleCare formulas that were manufactured at an Abbott facility in Sturgis, Mich.

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said it’s important to connect with voters on the issues they care about most – and, right now, that’s the economy.

“At the same time, if you’re going to consistently address inflation as an issue that’s your top priority, then you have to have action,” he said.

Republicans know that Biden’s blame-the-minority-party strategy won’t work, Bonjean said. They tried it in 2006. George W. Bush was in the White House, and the GOP held majorities in the House and the Senate. But Republicans tried to pin problems with the economy, immigration and other issues on Democrats.

“It failed miserably,” said Bonjean, who served as communications director for then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Republicans lost their majorities in the House and the Senate that fall “because voters see the folks who are in charge as the ones who are supposed to solve the problem,” Bonjean said. “That’s why they were elected.”

WHAT IS TO BLAME?Biden’s $1.9T stimulus caused inflation, critics say. But others argue it saved the economy.

Can Biden do more to tame inflation?

The reality is there isn’t much more the president can do to lower inflation, said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project and a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, a think tank based in Washington.

“They’re doing, I think, all the right things on improving the supply chains and making sure the reports are working well,” Edelberg said. “They should keep doing that.”

Many Americans expect Biden to do more.

Thirty-eight percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing, according to a poll released Wednesday by Fairleigh Dickinson University. Sixty-two percent say the president has “some” or “a lot” of control over inflation, a figure that included 50% of Democrats and 77% of Republicans.

“Figures like these have scholars of the presidency pulling their hair out,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of government and politics at the university and executive director of the poll. “Inflation right now is a global problem: There’s nothing the president of the U.S. can do about it. But Americans are expecting him to do something.”

One immediate move Biden could do to address price hikes is reducing tariffs, Edelberg said. The president said Tuesday that the White House is reviewing tariffs imposed on China during the Trump administration.

“It would have been a welcome step a long time ago,” Edelberg said. “It would be a welcome step now.”

The labor market is not the driving force behind inflationary pressure, Edelberg said, but it eventually could be. The White House should be proactive in addressing that, she said.

The White House could push for better infrastructure to help people get back to work and make it easier to stay in their job, Edelberg said. For example, she noted, ensuring people have access to paid leave and sick leave would “make it more possible for people to work, and the increase of return on working would have effects.”

A lot of what can be done next to address inflation relies on monetary policymakers, such as the Federal Reserve Bank.

“Monetary policy is now taking pretty aggressive steps to do what it can to slow the economy to slow demand for goods and services,” Edelberg said.

Michael Collins and Rebecca Morin cover the White House. Follow Collins on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS and Morin @RebeccaMorin_.

Contributing: Maureen Groppe and Paul Davidson

FUEL COSTS: Will gas prices ease with Biden’s release from strategic reserve? Experts say it’s not enough

HIGH-SPEED INTERNET: Major internet providers to slash cost of broadband service for low-income Americans

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Will Biden’s blame-the-Republicans strategy on inflation work?

Nebraska GOP strains to unite after Trump’s candidate loses

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska Republicans struggled to put the bruising campaign for governor behind them on Wednesday as a rally that was intended to highlight party unity instead showed division following the first major loss for a candidate endorsed by Donald Trump in this year’s midterm elections.

Fissures remained evident in the hours after the primary was called for Jim Pillen, a University of Nebraska regent backed by Gov. Pete Ricketts and other prominent Republicans.

Charles Herbster, the Trump-backed candidate who finished second, appeared briefly at the event but left immediately afterward without taking questions or endorsing Pillen. Herbster, a businessman and cattle breeder who faced groping allegations from eight young women during the campaign, has a lawsuit pending against one of his accusers, a Republican state senator.

Another top contender, state Sen. Brett Lindstrom, did not attend the post-election unity gathering, as is customary for losing candidates. He endorsed Pillen on Tuesday night after conceding the race.

Regardless of any lingering hard feelings, Pillen will be a strong favorite against Democrat Carol Blood, a state senator, in November. Nebraska, a Republican stronghold, has not elected a Democrat as governor since 1994. Ricketts is prevented by term limit laws from running again.

“I know when you or your candidate is on the losing side, sometimes it becomes pretty darn difficult to come together,” Dan Welch, the state Republican Party chair, said in a speech at the rally. He added: “But if you think about what brings us all together as a party, it’s not the candidates. What brings us together are our conservative ideologies, our conservative principles and our philosophies.”

The discord highlights the dangers for Republicans of Trump wading into primary contests where other GOP leaders have endorsed different candidates. The stakes will only get higher later this month for Trump in primaries in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia as he seeks to reward allies and punish enemies before a possible run for the White House in 2024.

Trump lashed out at Ricketts in a statement Wednesday that referred to him and others as a “RINO,” short for “Republican in Name Only.” The former president had defended Herbster during in-person and telephone rallies with Nebraska voters, saying the allegations against the candidate were politically motivated. Trump has previously denied sexual assault allegations of his own using similar language.

Pillen struck a unifying tone in his speech at the rally.

“I think that what’s important today is we focus on tomorrow,” he said, adding, “I will work very, very hard to earn the rest of the Republican votes, eyeball to eyeball, handshake to handshake, all across the state.”

During the campaign, Herbster and Lindstrom both faced television attacks from Conservative Nebraska, a political action committee heavily bankrolled by Ricketts, a wealthy former executive and the son of billionaire TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts. The family has spent millions of dollars over the years to help their chosen candidates and causes.

Herbster denied allegations from eight women, including state Sen. Julie Slama, that he had groped them, and he accused Ricketts and Pillen of conspiring to spread the story; both men denied that. Herbster has filed a defamation lawsuit against Slama, who responded with a suit of her own accusing him of sexual battery.

Herbster campaign spokeswoman Emily Novotny said Wednesday that Herbster “is going to continue pursuing all legal avenues until his name is cleared.”

“This lawsuit was never about the governor’s race, but about returning honor to Mr. Herbster’s reputation,” she said in an email.

Slama’s lawyer did not immediately reply to email and phone messages. After the race was called for Pillen, Slama tweeted, “God Bless Nebraska” with an American flag emoji.

State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, who helped form a legal fund to defend Herbster’s accusers, said her group had not decided yet whether to disband. “He lost. We need to move on,” said Linehan, a Pillen supporter.

Ricketts, in an interview, said it was important for Republicans to come together against Blood and any other Democrats running in November. He said Pillen had a better ground game and message that resonated with voters.

“Endorsements only carry you so far, especially endorsements from outside the state,” Ricketts said. “What Nebraskans want to know is what you’re going to do, and one of the things Jim Pillen did was have the best grassroots campaign to get around the state and tell people directly. That’s why he won.”

___

Originally posted by ap.org

How the ‘most conservative governor in North Carolina history’ became a RINO

Former Gov. Pat McCrory served on the frontline of the culture wars in 2016 when he signed North Carolina’s controversial “bathroom bill,” which curbed protections for transgender people. When he was defeated for reelection later that year by a razor-thin margin, he raised questions about the voting process and didn’t concede until nearly a month after the election.

Those experiences would seem to make McCrory an ideal nominee in a post-Trump GOP animated by claims of election fraud and the politics of transgender rights. Instead, in the run-up to North Carolina’s Tuesday primary, he’s dropping in polls and being dismissed by MAGA faithful as a liberal RINO.

His fall from the governor’s mansion to Senate long shot is the latest case study of the GOP’s transformation during the Trump era.

“It is kind of a unique situation at this point in time,” McCrory said in an interview. “But to have it be said I’m liberal is ironic, because four years ago I was being branded the exact opposite.”

He laughed. “I’m the same person.”

McCrory points out that he was heckled in public, called a bigot, subjected to death threats and “shunned” with his wife from Charlotte social events as part of the fallout from the bill known as HB2 in 2016, which banned transgender people from using public bathrooms that aligned with their gender identity.

His first year in the governor’s office gave rise to the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, a series of protests at the Capitol against him and the GOP-controlled legislature that resulted in hundreds of arrests in 2013 and 2014.

Far-left demonstrators were a regular presence outside the governor’s mansion and at the Capitol as McCrory signed legislation that ticked off top conservative priorities: banning sanctuary cities and stopping food stamp benefits for undocumented immigrants; cutting unemployment benefits; increasing the waiting period to three days to have an abortion; and, most notably, what became known as the bathroom bill.

“Anybody who really knows Pat and pays attention, whether they’re liberal or conservative, they’re not going to call him liberal,” said former Republican Gov. Jim Martin, who is supporting McCrory in the primary.

As a former governor and former mayor of the state’s biggest city, Charlotte, McCrory was well-positioned to win the GOP nomination when Republican Sen. Richard Burr announced his retirement. And for much of the primary campaign, McCrory’s near-universal name recognition powered him to a commanding lead — even after former President Donald Trump unexpectedly endorsed Rep. Ted Budd in June 2021.

Then the conservative Club for Growth announced it was spending $5 million to support Budd. Then $10 million. Then $15 million. The organization’s super PAC bought up ad time portraying McCrory as a “liberal faker,” a line of attack the group has sustained for months as it sought to boost support for Budd. Other outside groups piled on with several more millions in spending against McCrory.

“I was probably the original person who was canceled, and now I’m the one being called a liberal,” McCrory said in an interview. “Someone came up to me the other day and said, ‘McCrory, you were DeSantis before DeSantis.’ I said, ‘That’s a unique perspective.’ I stood up to some things that were contrary not just to liberals, but to the power elite of my party.”

The bombardment has taken a heavy toll on McCrory, who lost his first bid for governor in 2008, won the office in 2012 and was defeated for reelection in 2016 by just two-tenths of a percentage point. Budd’s lead has grown exponentially in the past month, a period that included a Trump rally in the state. In the last two months, McCrory has fallen 9 percentage points to 20 percent, while Budd has surged 30 points to 48 percent, according to new polling released Monday.

Burr noted the power of the Club for Growth’s assault on McCrory, without mentioning the organization by name.

“It’s amazing what having an unlimited checkbook can do to public opinion,” Burr told POLITICO, adding that McCrory “has always been a conservative.”

McCrory’s cool relationship with Trump, and his occasional criticisms of the former president, have made it easier for the attacks on his conservative bona fides to stick. And there are those who contend that, while state policies shifted rightward during his tenure as governor, McCrory was often a behind-the-scenes impediment to their agenda.

Former Republican state Sen. Bob Rucho specifically noted McCrory’s private resistance to cutting state unemployment benefits and enacting tax reform legislation — policies McCrory now takes credit for on the campaign trail.

“He’s already lost two statewide elections,” said Rucho, who, like McCrory, is from the Charlotte area. “In the past, it used to be if you lose one statewide election, your political career is probably over. Having lost two, that is very rare that he’s even back again, to be honest.”

With significantly fewer financial resources, McCrory has tried to fight back against the not-conservative-enough characterization by reminding voters of the days when he was lauded by conservative groups. He’s pleaded with reporters for coverage and appealed directly to voters on social media, in addition to running a television ad on the topic.

“Y’all know I was the most conservative governor in North Carolina history,” McCrory says in the ad. “I’m the guy who outlawed sanctuary cities. You remember.”

Last month, he took to his Facebook and Twitter channels, desperate to push back against a narrative with millions of dollars behind it. On April 14, he merely tweeted a link and the headline of a 2015 news story: “McCrory signs bill outlawing sanctuary cities in NC.”

Prior to that, Conservative Outsiders PAC, a super PAC associated with the Club for Growth, had been airing a television ad hitting McCrory on immigration.

McCrory also posted a video on Facebook trying to set the record straight about a different negative ad, posted by another group that is working with the Club — the School Freedom Foundation.

“Listen, you know me,” McCrory said, explaining he was unquestionably against the teaching of critical race theory in schools. “Let’s cut the crap.”

Martin, the former governor and McCrory supporter, mentioned a recent Club for Growth ad featuring Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who threw his support behind Budd last month at Trump’s rally. In the ad, Robinson said McCrory was a nice guy, but “no conservative.”

“Saying he’s not a conservative — the lieutenant governor doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He just said what they told him to say,” Martin said. “It’s a weird thing. But, you know, politics is like that.”

John Lassiter, a close friend and informal adviser of McCrory who began working with him in Charlotte government in the mid-1980s, remains hopeful about McCrory’s chances Tuesday. He said he expected voters would “wake up” at the end of the campaign, and decide to vote for the person they supported previously.

“It’s really unfair,” Lassiter said. “He is very conservative, particularly on fiscal matters and the role of government. At his core, his politics are pretty tried and true, and he has stuck to those despite the trade winds that come every cycle.”

Lassiter, whom McCrory tapped to oversee and privatize the state’s economic development efforts, said McCrory is “pretty aligned with people like Thom Tillis,” the U.S. senator who was speaker of the North Carolina House when McCrory was governor.

Tillis, for his part, called McCrory a “business conservative.” Having one’s Republican credentials called into question is par for the course, he added.

“Primaries do that,” Tillis said. “They portray me as a liberal. The two things they do is cast you as a RINO or too liberal, and corrupt. Neither of those are true for him.”

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

Originally posted by politico.com

Ilhan Omar calls for Israel to be held accountable for ‘human rights violations’ over killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh

  • Rep. Ilhan Omar denounced the killing of veteran journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
  • Omar called for Israel to be held accountable for “human rights violations.”
  • Abu Akleh, a longtime Al Jazeera journalist, was shot dead on Wednesday while covering Israeli raids in the West Bank.

Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota on Wednesday denounced the killing of veteran Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and called for Israel to be held accountable.

“She was killed by the Israeli military, after making her presence as a journalist clearly known,” the progressive lawmaker tweeted. “We provide Israel with $3.8 billion in military aid annually with no restrictions. What will it take for accountability for these human rights violations?”

Abu Akleh, a longtime journalist for Al Jazeera who was a household name throughout the region, was shot dead in the West Bank on Wednesday while covering Israeli raids in the city of Jenin.

Al Jazeera said in a statement that Israeli forces killed Abu Akleh, condemning it as “a blatant murder, violating international laws and norms.” The news outlet also said that Abu Akleh was wearing press gear that clearly identified her as a journalist when she was killed. Eyewitness reports from her colleagues at the scene and the Palestinian National Authority also said Israeli forces shot and killed Abu Akleh.

Israeli officials did not claim responsibility for the killing. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Abu Akleh could have been shot by Palestinians. Later, Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Aviv Kochavi said it’s currently “not possible” to determine who she was killed by, and said the matter will be investigated, according to CNN.

Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan also spoke out against the murder on Wednesday.

“When will the world and those who stand by Apartheid Israel that continues to murder, torture and commit war crimes finally say: ‘Enough’?” she wrote on Twitter.

“Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered by a government that receives unconditional funding by our country with zero accountability,” Tlaib added.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki denounced the killing on Wednesday but did not explicitly call out Israel.

“We are heartbroken to learn of the killing of Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, and injuries to producer Ali Samoudi, today in the West Bank. We send our deepest condolences to her family, friends, and strongly condemn her killing,” Psaki tweeted.

“We call for an immediate and thorough investigation and full accountability. Investigating attacks on independent media and prosecuting those responsible are of paramount importance,” she wrote in a follow-up tweet.

“We will continue to promote media freedom and protect journalists’ ability to do their jobs without fear of violence, threats to their lives or safety, or unjust detention. Her death is a tragic loss and an affront to media freedom everywhere,” Psaki went on to say.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Wednesday signaled that the Biden administration will not call for an independent investigation into the killing. “The Israelis have the wherewithal and the capabilities to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation,” Price told reporters during a press briefing.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for a “thorough, objective investigation” into Abu Akleh’s killing, decrying it as a “horrific tragedy.”

The killing comes amid a tough period in US-Israel relations. Though it was long taboo to express criticism of Israel in Washington, progressive Democrats in recent years have become increasingly critical of the Israeli government over its treatment of Palestinians.

A number of these critics have called for the US to begin conditioning aid to Israel in relation to the occupation and peace process. This has placed President Joe Biden at odds with segments of the Democratic party when it comes to Israel, and he’s faced pressure from such lawmakers to take a firmer stance against human rights violations by the Israeli government.

This growing intraparty schism regarding US-Israel relations became especially apparent during the Israel-Hamas conflict last year as Biden faced fierce criticism from lawmakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. As the Biden administration expressed support for Israel’s right to defend itself amid the fight, Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives accused the president of ignoring the underlying causes of the violence — as well as what they viewed as disproportionate military actions by Israeli forces.

Top human rights groups have accused both Israel and Hamas of committing apparent war crimes during last year’s fighting. The 11-day conflict in May 2021 saw 260 Palestinians killed in Gaza, including at least 129 civilians and 66 children, per the UN. Twelve Israeli civilians were also killed during the same period.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Biden to order flags at half-staff to mark 1 million COVID deaths

President Biden will order flags at half-staff Thursday to commemorate the deaths of one million Americans who lost their lives to COVID-19.

Biden released a statement Thursday morning honoring those who have died in the U.S. over the last two years of the pandemic. He is also set to address a global, virtual COVID-19 summit later in the day in a pre-recorded statement.

Various COVID-19 trackers have different totals for the number of Americans that died from the coronavirus.

NBC News has compiled data showing more than one million Americans have already been lost to COVID-19, while Johns Hopkins University’s tracker has the number at slightly above 998,000.

While the U.S. hovers around the one million deaths mark, cases are beginning to rise again across the U.S., though experts are not panicking, due to the nature of the subvariant omicron known as BA.2 and widespread immunity due to vaccines and antibodies.

Though public health officials say the pandemic is not over, the U.S. is among many countries learning to live with the virus, with all states dropping their COVID-19 mask mandates and social distancing requirements.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.

U.S. cities are backing off banning facial recognition as crime rises

OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) – Facial recognition is making a comeback in the United States as bans to thwart the technology and curb racial bias in policing come under threat amid a surge in crime and increased lobbying from developers.

Virginia in July will eliminate its prohibition on local police use of facial recognition a year after approving it, and California and the city of New Orleans as soon as this month could be next to hit the undo button.

Homicide reports in New Orleans rose 67% over the last two years compared with the pair before, and police say they need every possible tool.

“Technology is needed to solve these crimes and to hold individuals accountable,” police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson told reporters as he called on the city council to repeal a ban that went into effect last year https://library.municode.com/la/new_orleans/munidocs/munidocs?nodeId=34716c774a66d.

Efforts to get bans in place are meeting resistance in jurisdictions big and small from New York and Colorado http://leg.colorado.gov/bills/sb22-113 to West Lafayette, Indiana. Even Vermont, the last state left with a near-100% ban against police facial-recognition use, chipped away https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2022/H.195 at its law last year to allow for investigating child sex crimes.

From 2019 through 2021, about two dozen U.S. state or local governments https://www.banfacialrecognition.com/map passed laws restricting facial recognition. Studies had found the technology less effective in identifying Black people, and the anti-police Black Lives Matter protests gave the arguments momentum.

But ongoing research by the federal government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology https://www.nist.gov/programs-projects/face-recognition-vendor-test-frvt-ongoing (NIST) has shown significant industrywide progress in accuracy. And Department of Homeland Security https://mdtf.org/Rally2021/Results2021 testing published last month found little variation in accuracy across skin tone and gender.

“There is growing interest in policy approaches that address concerns about the technology while ensuring it is used in a bounded, accurate and nondiscriminatory way that benefits communities,” said Jake Parker, senior director of government relations at the lobbying group Security Industry Association.

Shifting sentiment could bring its members, including Clearview AI, Idemia and Motorola Solutions, a greater share of the $124 billion https://www.taxpolicycenter.org/statistics/state-and-local-general-expenditures-percentage-distribution that state and local governments spend on policing annually. The portion dedicated to technology is not closely tracked.

Gaining new police business is ever more important for Clearview, which this week settled a privacy lawsuit over images it collected from social media by agreeing not to sell its flagship system to the U.S. private sector.

Clearview, which helps police find matches in the social media data, said it welcomes “any regulation that helps society get the most benefit from facial recognition technology while limiting potential downsides.” Idemia and Motorola, which provide matches from government databases, declined to comment.

Though the recent studies have eased lawmakers’ reservations, debate is ongoing. The General Services Administration https://www.gsa.gov/cdnstatic/GSAEquityPlan_EO13985_2022.pdf, which oversees federal contractors, said in a report released last month that major facial recognition tools disproportionately failed to match African Americans in its tests. The agency did not respond to requests to provide details about the testing.

Facial recognition will be reviewed by the president’s new National AI Advisory Committee, which last week began forming a subgroup tasked with studying its use in policing.

‘FIRST IN NATION’

Virginia approved its ban through a process that limited input from facial recognition developers. This year, company lobbyists came prepared to advance legislation that better balanced individual liberties with police investigation needs, said State Senator Scott Surovell.

Beginning July 1, police can use facial recognition tools that achieve 98% or higher accuracy in at least one NIST test with minimal variation across demographics.

NIST declined to comment, citing practice against discussing legislation.

Tech critics said the standard is well-intentioned but imperfect and that warrants should be required for facial recognition use.

“Addressing discriminatory policing by double-checking the algorithm is a bit like trying to solve police brutality by checking the gun isn’t racist: strictly speaking it’s better than the alternative, but the real problem is the person holding it,” said Os Keyes, an Ada Lovelace Fellow at University of Washington.

Virginia barred real-time surveillance, and face matches cannot serve as probable cause in warrant applications. Misuse can lead to a misdemeanor.

Parker, the lobbyist, called the law https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?221+sum+SB741 “the first in the nation to require the accuracy of facial recognition technology used by law enforcement to be evaluated by the U.S government” and “the nation’s most stringent set of rules for its use.”

Former Virginia Delegate Lashrecse Aird, who spearheaded last year’s law, said companies this year wanted a model to defeat bans across the country.

“They believe this ensures greater accountability – it’s progress, but I don’t know,” she said.

It contrasts with a Washington state law https://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=43.386&full=true that requires agencies to conduct their own tests beforehand “in operational conditions.”

‘MOMENTS OF CRISIS’

California in 2019 banned police from using facial recognition on mobile devices such as body-worn cameras. But the prohibition expires on Jan. 1 because of a provision state senators added.

Now, news reports about rising retail theft and smash-and-grab robberies have captured lawmakers’ attention, said Jennifer Jones, a staff attorney for ACLU of Northern California.

As a result, ACLU has faced resistance from law enforcement to make the ban permanent https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220SB1038.

“Police departments are exploiting people’s fears about that crime to amass more power,” Jones said. “This has been for decades, we see new technologies being pushed in moments of crisis.”

Activists in New York are also pressing for a facial recognition ban despite increased crime. Eric Adams, who became mayor in January, said a month later that it could be used safely under existing rules, while his predecessor Bill de Blasio had called for more caution.

In West Lafayette, officials have twice failed to enact a ban on facial recognition over the past six months, citing its value in investigations.

“To ban it or chip away from its application would be a little short-sighted,” said Mayor John Dennis, a former police officer.

David Sanders, the city councilor behind the ban https://www.westlafayette.in.gov/egov/documents/1624628332_29088.pdf proposals, said concern about worsening low morale among officers was “dominating people’s reactions.”

After the loss in Virginia, civil liberties groups are escalating in New Orleans. Ten national organizations last week told councilmembers to strengthen, not repeal, its ban, citing the risk of wrongful arrests based on faulty identifications.

The local group Eye on Surveillance said New Orleans “cannot afford to go backward.”

(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Kenneth Li and Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. helped raise $3.1 billion for global pandemic response

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States helped raise over $3.1 billion in commitments to the international pandemic response ahead of the second global COVID-19 summit, but the U.S. Congress needs to authorize more funds, a senior White House official said.

The summit, jointly hosted by the United States, Belize, Germany, Indonesia and Senegal, will be held virtually on Thursday for countries to discuss efforts to end the pandemic and prepare for future health threats.

It is set to build on efforts and commitments made at the first global summit in September, including getting more people vaccinated, sending tests and treatments to highest-risk populations, expanding protections to health-care workers, and generating financing for pandemic preparedness.

“To date, the summit has leveraged in new money more than $3.1 billion in commitments. These are additional to what has been raised at other points in 2022, they are on top of existing commitments,” said the official, who did not reveal the source of the new funds.

“That would not have happened without U.S. leadership. But if the U.S. is to remain a leader, protecting Americans and the world from dangerous disease threats, we need Congress to act now to provide more funding for the COVID response.”

President Joe Biden asked Congress for over $22.5 billion in additional COVID-19 response funds, including $5 billion for international aid, but lawmakers have failed to pass any funding bill and those negotiating the package have been unable to agree on how to pay for the global response.

The United States will contribute an additional $200 million to the global health fund for future pandemic preparedness at the World Bank, the senior administration official said, bringing its total contribution to $450 million.

“The overarching purposes of the summit are really twofold; one is to redouble our efforts to control COVID-19 and the second is to ensure the world is prepared for the next pandemic,” the official told reporters on a press call.

At least 14 other countries — Canada, Colombia, India, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Palau, Rwanda, South Africa, South Korea, Spain and Tanzania — as well as the World Health Organization, European Commission, private-sector companies like Google, and non-governmental organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will attend the summit.

The United States has delivered over 500 million doses of vaccines to over 100 countries as part of the 1.2 billion doses it pledged at the first summit in September and has already committed over $19 billion in funding for vaccines, tests, treatments, and other forms of assistance, the official said.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Originally posted by reuters.com

Trump-backed candidate loses in Nebraska in possible preview of setbacks to come

Donald Trump’s pick for governor of Nebraska was defeated in Tuesday’s Republican primary there, but in a showdown between two congressional candidates in West Virginia, the former president’s choice won handily.

Trump remains the GOP’s dominant figure, although his decision to endorse a host of candidates in competitive primaries this year is putting his influence among rank-and-file Republican voters to the test. The success or failure of Trump-backed candidates is being watched closely by GOP donors and other Republican politicians, including those considering their own campaigns for the presidency in 2024.

In Nebraska, Trump took his first major loss of the 2022 primary season. And there is at least one more defeat likely to come later this month.

Businessman Charles Herbster was Trump’s chosen candidate for governor in Nebraska. But on Tuesday he lost to University of Nebraska Board of Regents member Jim Pillen, who received 34% of the vote to Herbster’s 30%, with 95% of the vote counted. A third candidate, moderate state Sen. Brett Lindstrom, was in third place with just under 26% of the vote.

Nebraska Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster.
Nebraska Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster gives a concession speech on Tuesday. (Justin Wan/Lincoln Journal Star via AP)

Trump won Nebraska by 19 points in the 2020 election, and yet some of his supporters in the state insisted that those results were unfair. Nebraska is one of two states that divide their Electoral College votes, and Joe Biden won one of those votes despite Trump’s strong showing.

Two Republican candidates for Nebraska’s secretary of state — the office that oversees elections in the state — have claimed without evidence that Nebraska’s elections have been tainted with fraud.

Republican Secretary of State Robert Evnen, who oversaw the 2020 election, investigated the claims by his two Republican rivals for the job, and published a 19-page document showing there was no substance to them. Yet the two hard-core Trump candidates, Robert Borer and Rex Schroder, have continued to make their baseless claims.

Nebraska Republicans rejected the two conspiracy-promoting candidates and renominated Evnen, who received 44% of the vote to Borer’s 32% and Schroder’s 24%. Trump has put a priority on secretary of state races across the country this year, saying in January that “sometimes the vote counter is more important than the candidate.” However, Trump did not make an endorsement in Nebraska’s secretary of state contest.

In the governor’s race, Herbster was endorsed by Trump last fall. He donated more than $1 million to Trump’s reelection campaign in 2020 and attended the rally on Jan. 6, 2021, that preceded the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters, who were attempting to block the certification of election results. Herbster spent part of that day with top Trump advisers, including the then president’s two adult sons.

Charles Herbster with former President Donald Trump.
Herbster with former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally on May 1 in Greenwood, Neb. (Kenneth Ferriera/Lincoln Journal Star via AP)

But in mid-April a Republican state senator, Julie Slama, and seven other women said Herbster had groped or inappropriately touched them. Slama said Herbster had reached up her skirt at a political event in 2019. Other women have also spoken out on the record backing the claims against Herbster, as have men who allegedly witnessed the incidents. One of the women said Herbster had forcibly kissed her.

However, Trump went to Nebraska on May 1 to campaign with Herbster and declared him innocent. “I have to defend my friends, I have to defend people that are good. These are malicious charges to derail him long enough that the election can go by before the proper defense can be put forward,” the former president said.

Herbster not only denied the allegations, he attacked Slama in a 30-second TV ad and sued her for defamation. Herbster’s ad did not mention Slama by name but claimed that his “accuser” invited him to her destination wedding. Slama said the invitation was sent by mistake over email and has countersued Herbster.

Slama’s lawyers have said that Herbster is engaged in a “frivolous and bad faith attempt to bully a sexual assault victim into silence.”

Herbster claimed he was the victim of a political witch hunt driven by Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, who was supporting Pillen. Ricketts and Pillen both dismissed Herbster’s claims.

Jim Pillen.
Jim Pillen, the winner of the Nebraska Republican gubernatorial primary, at an election night party on Tuesday. (Kenneth Ferriera/Journal Star via AP)

And ultimately, so did Nebraska voters, which included about 8,000 people who switched their registration from Democratic to Republican to vote in the GOP primary. Pillen is favored to win the fall election over Democratic nominee Carol Blood.

“It sure looked like the Trump endorsement didn’t deliver as many rural counties for Herbster as you’d expect. The Nebraska Farm Bureau endorsement of Pillen really helped him in rural areas, it appears, along with Gov. Rickett’s assistance,” wrote Paul Hammel, a reporter for the Nebraska Examiner, on Twitter.

Meanwhile, in West Virginia, Rep. Alex Mooney defeated Rep. David McKinley in Tuesday’s Republican primary for the state’s Second Congressional District. Mooney, a former state senator from Maryland, has been in Congress since 2015. McKinley has been a congressman since 2011.

But after the 2020 census, West Virginia lost a congressional district, and the redrawn map combined parts of Mooney’s and McKinley’s districts. Both candidates were conservative, but McKinley had a record of bipartisan cooperation as well.

Rep. Alex Mooney.
Rep. Alex Mooney at a campaign rally in Greensburg, Pa., on May 6. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Trump backed Mooney, in part because McKinley supported an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection. Republican Gov. Jim Justice backed McKinley, as did Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. After a brutal primary in which both candidates ran numerous negative ads, Mooney defeated McKinley by almost 20 points, 54% to 35%.

West Virginia is perhaps the most pro-Trump state in the country; the former president won there by nearly 40 points in 2020. But the rest of the month looks uncertain and potentially bumpy for Trump’s endorsements.

In Pennsylvania, where Republicans will hold a primary a week from now, TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz has climbed in the polls after Trump endorsed him. Oz is locked in a tight three-way contest with former hedge fund CEO David McCormick and conservative commentator Kathy Barnette, who is surging in the polls and leaning hard into her anti-abortion views and personal story.

Dr. Mehmet Oz and former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally.
Dr. Mehmet Oz and Trump at a campaign rally in Greensburg, Pa., on May 6. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

And in Georgia, where Republicans will hold a primary on May 24, Trump’s vendetta against Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has seemingly backfired.

Trump has tried to get Kemp tossed out of office because Kemp refused to go along with Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election. But Georgia Republicans appear poised to nominate Kemp a second time and to reject Trump’s choice for the nomination, former Sen. David Perdue.

Originally posted by news.yahoo.com

House committee refers former Trump Interior Secretary David Bernhardt for criminal prosecution

The House Natural Resources Committee announced its first-ever criminal referral to the Department of Justice on Wednesday, asking it to investigate whether Mike Ingram, an Arizona real estate developer and a campaign donor to Donald Trump, bribed public officials during Trump’s tenure as president, including then-Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.

Since 2019, the House committee has investigated a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in October 2017 to reverse its previous opposition to a proposed housing development in Benson, Ariz., called Villages at Vigneto. That decision was reversed again in July 2021, after Joe Biden took office as president.

President Donald Trump listens to U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt speak.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and President Donald Trump in the White House on July 8, 2019. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

According to a committee report in August 2017, Steve Spangle, who was then an FWS field supervisor, received a phone call during which an attorney from the Interior Department’s Office of the Solicitor asked Spangle to reverse his decision that the Army Corps of Engineers must consult with FWS before reinstating the then-suspended Clean Water Act permit for the Villages at Vigneto. The report said the phone call “was directed by Dep. Sec. Bernhardt” after he met with Ingram. Bernhardt went on to serve as secretary of the interior from 2019 to 2021.

“Evidence strongly suggests the decision was the result of a quid pro quo between Vigneto’s developer, Michael Ingram, and senior level officials in the Trump administration, potentially including then-DOI Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt,” the committee report concluded.

“The findings of this investigation show us yet again that the previous administration cast career staff expertise aside while they handed out federal agency decisions to Trump’s buddies and big donors on a pay-to-play basis,” Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., said in a statement released Wednesday.

Democrat Raul Grijalva, in bolo tie with turquoise, speaks at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing.
House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., at a hearing in 2020. (Michael Reynolds/Pool via Reuters)

The Vigneto development is in an ecologically sensitive area, according to the committee. “The land on which Vigneto would be developed is located approximately two miles upland from the San Pedro River, the last major free-flowing river in the desert Southwest,” the committee’s report states. “The surrounding ecosystem is a fragile, yet critically important habitat for many unique species of wildlife and is considered a critical corridor for millions of migratory songbirds.”

As a result, the Army Corps was legally obligated to consult with FWS under the Endangered Species Act, but withdrew its request for consultation after Trump took office. The committee also documents that Ingram and a dozen other donors in Arizona, some of whom have business ties to Ingram, donated a total of $241,600 to the Republican National Committee, Donald Trump for President and state GOP committees in 2017.

Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., who chairs the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Natural Resources Committee, issued a statement explicitly alleging corruption in the Trump administration.

“An exchange of money for a specific government action is the clearest form of corruption there is, and Americans — Democrats, Republicans, and Independents — share an understanding that this kind of quid pro quo erodes our democracy,” Porter said. “In this case, our oversight uncovered that the Trump administration’s Department of the Interior overruled local career professionals and reversed a long-standing position on environmental review requirements, just weeks after politically connected donors made nearly a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of contributions benefiting the Trump campaign. This concerning fact pattern demands additional fact finding, at a minimum, so the American people have answers on whether the Trump administration was acting in the public’s interest or the interests of the highest bidder.”

Rep. Katie Porter at a hearing.
Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., chair of the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, in 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Bernhardt did not respond to Yahoo News’ request for comment before publication, nor did a spokesperson for Trump. Ingram’s real estate firm, El Dorado Holdings, sent a statement by its attorney Lanny Davis, a Washington, D.C., lawyer famous for his many high-profile political clients.

“The referral sent by Chairman Grijalva and Subcommittee Chairwoman Porter is false, misleading, unfair, and strikes me as reminiscent of McCarthyism’s use of innuendo as a surrogate for fact,” Davis said. “El Dorado participated in multiple meetings with this Committee, acted in full transparency, and gave full cooperation without a subpoena. Despite this, we were denied the basic and fundamental opportunity to rebut the allegations in this referral and denied a chance to even speak to the chairman. Unfortunately, the American people have been numbed and accustomed to political attacks that have little to do with the truth, and there needs to be bipartisan outrage when this occurs. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Democratic or Republican committee or a Democratic or Republican administration. I intend to spend every minute I can visiting with the Democratic and Republican members of this Committee to persuade them that what was done by the Chairman and Subcommittee Chairwoman was unjust and utterly failed to report the facts of no wrongdoing by Mr. Ingram or El Dorado. I still believe the final decision was made based on the law and the facts.”

After this story was published, Davis sent an additional statement, which reads, in part: “The authors of the Committee referral to DOJ conveniently misled when they failed to quote from an independent review by local U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials to address the charge that the permit for the Vigneto project was continued because of political influence.” Davis argues that the internal FWS review absolved Ingram of improper influencing FWS employees.

Environmental advocacy groups critical of DOI’s record during the Trump era saw the referral as vindication.

“We said all along that David Bernhardt was too compromised and too corrupt to be a Cabinet secretary,” said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, in a statement. “This is damning evidence of a straight up pay-for-play favor. Mike Ingram got a secret meeting with David Bernhardt early in the Trump administration. Then the very same day that Bernhardt flipped the career officials under him, the cash flowed into the Trump campaign.”

Originally posted by news.yahoo.com

Judge spikes DeSantis’s Florida redistricting map that axed minority district as candidate deadline nears

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s new congressional boundaries drawn by Gov. Ron DeSantis were blocked from being used in this year’s elections Wednesday by a circuit judge who ruled they discriminate against Black voters in North Florida.

The decision, certain to be appealed by the state, brings a new level of at least temporary chaos to this year’s election season, with candidate qualifying for congressional seats in Florida only a month away.

And because Democrats have such thin margins for control of Congress, any changes to congressional maps could have outsized influence in this year’s midterm elections —and therefore the fate of Biden’s agenda for the last two years of his presidency.

At the heart of the case is the current congressional district 5 held by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat whose seat stretches from Jacksonville to the Tallahassee area and includes Gadsden County, the state’s only majority Black county.

The new map, crafted by the Republican governor and approved by the Florida legislature last month, scatters more than 370,000 Black voters who had been in Lawson’s heavily Black, Democratic-leaning district across four North Florida districts.

None of the districts would have a large Black voting population and all four would be Republican-leaning, part of a push by the governor to expand the number of GOP members of Congress from Florida.

“I do find persuasive the arguments that were made about the diminishment of African-American votes….to the other districts where they’re now spreading,” said Judge Layne Smith, a DeSantis appointee, who issued his ruling after a three-hour hearing Wednesday.

Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, was among several Democrats who staged a brief protest last month just before the state House approved a congressional redistricting map advanced by Gov. Ron DeSantis
Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, was among several Democrats who staged a brief protest last month just before the state House approved a congressional redistricting map advanced by Gov. Ron DeSantis

Redistricting: Voters get fewer choices as Democrats and Republicans dig partisan trenches in redistricting

John Devaney, who argued the plaintiffs’ case for the Florida League of Women Voters and three minority advocacy organizations, said the DeSantis map left North Florida Black voters without enough voting strength to elect a candidate of their choice.

He argued the move violated Florida’s voter-approved Fair Districts constitutional amendments, which prohibit drawing legislative or congressional boundaries that for Black and Hispanic voters, “diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice.”

Midterm elections and control of Congress

Florida’s 27 congressional districts are currently split 16-11, with Republicans controlling most seats. The state is getting another district in Congress this year because of population gains in the 2020 census.

But with control of Congress at stake in this fall’s elections, DeSantis could emerge as a hero to Republicans nationally if he is seen as having helped boost the GOP’s chances of winning command because of enhanced numbers out of Florida.

Still, the news and data analysis site FiveThirtyEight, which is closely following redistricting across the nation, has called Florida’s congressional map “darn close to the most egregiously partisan map in the country.”

Jasmine Burney-Clark, founder of Equal Ground, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said Smith’s ruling follows an historic pattern.

“When government overreach tries to suppress Black voters, the courts are our last line of defense to preserve justice and equity,” Burney-Clark said.

She added, “No Floridian – including Governor DeSantis – is above the law. This is one step forward in the fight to protect Black voters.”

Census: US sees unprecedented multiracial growth, decline in the white population for first time in history

‘Classic cracking’ of Black voters

“It’s classic cracking,” Devaney said of the DeSantis map. “Let’s take that Black population and let’s split it up into four districts where they have no voting power. And that’s what we’ve got.”

He said it was important that Smith stop the plan from going into effect.

“Once an election occurs, there’s no do-over,” said Devaney, an attorney with the Democratic-allied, Washington, D.C. firm, Perkins Coie. “The harm is done. The only way to protect against that harm is to assure that a constitutional voting map is put in place before the election actually occurs.”

A North Florida map that keeps the congressional district 5 in its current, Jacksonville-to-Tallahassee contours was proposed in court testimony by Harvard University political scientist and redistricting expert Steven Ansolabehere. It’s similar to a plan that was approved by the Florida legislature but vetoed by DeSantis, action that led lawmakers to support the governor’s map last month.

Ansolabehere’s plan was put forward as a substitute map Smith said he will recommend using in his order, which will probably not be finalized until Thursday or Friday. Smith acknowledged wanting to give DeSantis-appointee Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Florida’s top elections official, adequate time to appeal.

The Tallahassee-area First District Court of Appeal could either take up the matter, or send the congressional redistricting case to the Florida Supreme Court.

“As Judge Smith implied, these complex constitutional matters of law were always going to be decided at the appellate level,” said Taryn Fenske, a DeSantis spokeswoman. “We will undoubtedly be appealing his ruling and are confident the constitutional map enacted by the Florida legislature and signed into law passes legal muster. We look forward to defending it.”

Lawson hailed Smith’s ruling.

“The judge recognizes that this map is unlawful and diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect representatives of their choice,” Lawson said. “DeSantis is wrong for enacting this Republican-leaning map that is in clear violation of the U.S. and state constitutions.

Time is tight

But all involved in the case agreed Wednesday that time is tight, with federal candidate qualifying set for June 13-17 and county elections supervisors saying they needed a map finalized by the end of this month so that precincts could be reconfigured and other matters settled.

The Florida League of Women Voters joined with Equal Ground Education Fund, Florida Rising Together, Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute and a handful of voters from across the state in seeking the injunction to stop the new CD-5 boundaries from going into effect, which effectively puts on hold the entire map.

Mohammad Jazil, attorney for Lee, the secretary of state, defended the approach by DeSantis and the legislature as constitutional and superior to the current wide-ranging district.

Jazil added that what the League of Women Voters and others are seeking relies on an interpretation of the state constitution’s prohibition against diminishing Black voting strength, which conflicts with federal equal protection standards.

While scattering Black voters in North Florida, the DeSantis congressional map creates 20 districts likely to elect Republicans, leaving eight considered Democratic leaning. Two of the four districts that have elected Black Democrats would be eliminated in the plan.

What is gerrymandering?: Redistricting means new winners and losers

John Kennedy is a reporter in the USA TODAY Network’s Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jkennedy2@gannett.com, or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Florida Gov. DeSantis’ new congressional map blocked by judge

Democrats lose Senate vote to codify abortion rights into federal law

The US Senate on Wednesday failed to advance legislation that would codify the right to an abortion into federal law, after it was blocked by Republicans.

It was a largely symbolic vote by Democrats to mobilize Americans around the issue ahead of a likely supreme court decision striking down the protections enshrined by Roe v Wade.

Related: Pro-choice states rush to pledge legal shield for out-of-state abortions

The Senate roll call was a stark reflection of the partisan divide over abortion rights, with all Republicans and one conservative Democrat, Joe Manchin of Virginia, voting against the measure. The final tally was 49-51, well short of the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster in the Senate.

“Sadly the Senate failed to stand in defense of a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body,” Kamala Harris, the first woman and woman of color to serve as vice-president, told reporters outside of the Senate chamber, where she presided over the doomed vote. Pointing to the onslaught of laws restricting abortion access in Republican-led states, Harris said that “the priority should be to elect pro-choice leaders at the local, the state and the federal level”.

Joe Biden, who has called on the Democratic-controlled Congress to protect abortion rights, blamed Republicans, saying they “have chosen to stand in the way of Americans’ rights to make the most personal decisions about their own bodies, families and lives”.

Kamala Harris speaks to reporters outside the Senate chamber.
Kamala Harris speaks to reporters outside the Senate chamber. Photograph: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The president vowed to sign any bill that would secure reproductive rights and pledged to explore ways his administration could act in lieu of Congress.

Democrats moved quickly to stage the vote after a leak last week of a draft opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito in February and confirmed as authentic, indicated that the court’s conservative majority had privately voted to strike down Roe and subsequent rulings. The extraordinary disclosure ignited protests around the country, pushing reproductive rights to the center of the political debate six months before the congressional midterms. A final ruling from the court is expected this summer.

Ahead of the vote, a group of House Democratic women marched across the Capitol to protest against the end of Roe, chanting: “My body, my decision.”

Democrats, under intensifying pressure to act, saw a political opportunity in forcing Republicans to vote against a bill protecting abortion at a moment when the threat to access is urgent and polls show a majority of Americans want the procedure to remain legal in all or some cases.

They hope to use the Republican blockade as a data point in their midterm message to voters: that the GOP has become a party of “ultra-Maga” extremists, on the cusp of fulfilling a decades-long goal to strip women of their reproductive rights.

It is an issue Democrats hope will energize young voters disenchanted by the Biden administration and persuade Republican-leaning suburban women to back them again this cycle.

The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, urging support for the measure, warned that a failure to protect abortion access would put at risk other individual rights like contraception and same-sex marriage.

“If we do not take a stand now to protect a woman’s right to choose, then mark my words, it will be open season, open season on our God-given freedoms,” Schumer said in a floor speech ahead of a vote that he called “one of the most consequential we will take in decades”.

Representatives Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, Nikema Williams of Georgia and Veronica Escobar of Texas lead a march of Democratic women to advocate for abortion rights.
Representatives Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, Nikema Williams of Georgia and Veronica Escobar of Texas lead a march of Democratic women to advocate for abortion rights. Photograph: Julia Nikhinson/Reuters

If passed, the bill would have codified Roe v Wade into federal law, ensuring the right of healthcare providers to perform abortions and the right of patients to receive them. But it would also go further, in some cases invalidating state-level restrictions on abortion access enacted after the Roe decision in 1973.

As such, Republicans cast the bill as a “radical” attempt to expand reproductive rights that goes far beyond Roe and would legalize “abortion on demand”.

“We will stand with the American people, stand with innocent life, and block the Democrats’ extreme bill,” the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said on Wednesday.

Republicans are betting the economy will take precedence over abortion this November. Polling shows Republicans are well positioned to make significant gains in the midterm elections, buoyed by historical headwinds, discontent with the party in power and widespread concern over the rising cost of gas, food and rent.

But there are signs that Republicans do worry about a potential political backlash if Roe is overturned and states move swiftly to outlaw abortion, as many are preparing to do.

A day ahead of the vote, McConnell, who effectively secured a conservative super-majority on the supreme court, sought to downplay calls for a nationwide ban on abortion if they take control of the chamber in November, telling reporters: “Historically, there have been abortion votes on the floor of the Senate. None of them have achieved 60 votes.”

The two Senate Republicans who support abortion rights, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, opposed the bill, instead urging support for an alternative measure that they say is tailored to reflect the landscape of abortion rights. But many Democrats see their proposal, which is not expected to receive a vote, as too weak.

“Unlike some far-left activists, Senator Murkowski and I want the law today to be the law tomorrow,” Collins said on Wednesday, objecting to the lack of protections for religious exemptions in the Democrats’ bill.

In a dramatic shift, one of the only other Democrats in Congress with conservative views on abortion rights, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, said he would support the measure and voted in favor of advancing it. In a statement citing the leaked supreme court ruling, Casey said the “circumstances around the entire debate on abortion” had changed since the last time the Senate voted on the measure.

Abortion is also likely to be a major issue in races for governor and state offices, as the battle lines shift to the states, where Democrats are racing to secure and expand abortion access and Republicans are working to limit, or in some cases, outlaw it.

The show vote on Wednesday only intensified calls from progressives for Democrats to eliminate the filibuster or carve out an exception for abortion rights. But at this point, there are not 60 votes to codify Roe, and there is not enough Democratic support to eliminate or amend the Senate filibuster.

Without a clear legislative path forward, Democrats are turning to the fall elections, urging Americans to elect them as the “last lines of defense” against the end of Roe.

“I am angry and I’m disappointed,” Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington and a long-time advocate of reproductive rights, said after Wednesday’s vote. She urged Americans concerned over the threat to abortion to not lose hope.

“Now is not the time to back down or sit down,” she said. “Now is the time to lift up our voices and fight back. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Originally posted by theguardian.com

Pentagon asks Congress to fund mining projects in Australia, U.K

(Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Defense has asked Congress to let it fund facilities in the United Kingdom and Australia that process strategic minerals used to make electric vehicles and weapons, calling the proposal crucial to national defense.

The request to alter the Cold War-era Defense Production Act (DPA) came as part of the Pentagon’s recommendations to Congress for how to write the upcoming U.S. military funding bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act.

Congress may reject or accept the proposed changes when it finalizes the bill later this year.

Washington is trying harder to reduce America’s dependence on China for lithium, rare earths and other minerals used to make a range of technologies. Existing law bars DPA funds from being used to dig new mines, but they can be used for processing equipment, feasibility studies and upgrades to existing facilities. Currently, only facilities in the United States and Canada are eligible for DPA funding.

Adding Australia and the United Kingdom, the Pentagon said in the request to Congress, would “allow the U.S. government to leverage the resources of its closest allies to enrich U.S. manufacturing and industrial base capabilities and increase the nation’s advantage in an environment of great competition.”

Relying only on domestic or Canadian sources, the Pentagon said, “unnecessarily constrains” the DPA program’s ability to “ensure a robust industrial base.”

A Pentagon official was not immediately available for additional comment.

The National Mining Association, a trade group for the U.S. mining industry, declined to comment.

RARE EARTHS

The United Kingdom refines nickel and has several proposed processing facilities for lithium and rare earths. Australia has mining and processing facilities for a range of minerals, including iron ore, lithium, copper and rare earths, a group of 17 metals used to make magnets that turn electricity into motion.

The Pentagon last year awarded a DPA grant worth $30.4 million to Australia-based Lynas Rare Earths Ltd to build a processing facility in Texas with privately held Blue Line Corp.

Last month, Lynas Chief Executive Amanda Lacaze complained that those funds have yet to be dispersed, citing ongoing negotiations over protection of her company’s intellectual property.

The Pentagon has also granted at least $45 million to MP Materials Corp, which controls the only U.S. rare earths mine but depends on China for processing.

The funds are to help MP’s efforts to resume U.S. processing of those strategic minerals. Las Vegas-based MP said last week that it has started receiving those funds and that the Pentagon will have “certain rights to technical data” because of the financial support.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by David Gregorio)

Originally posted by reuters.com

Missouri election chief: Redistricting risks election errors

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri’s top election official on Wednesday warned that it may be too late to pass new congressional districts for the Aug. 2 primary without causing errors that could undermine confidence in the election.

Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said that even if lawmakers were to approve a new U.S. House map before Friday’s deadline to pass legislation, it wouldn’t leave local election authorities with enough time to ensure that everyone’s voting addresses are accurately assigned to the new districts.

“We’re running the risk of having a good amount of individuals that could end up with the wrong ballot,” Ashcroft told The Associated Press.

He suggested it would be better to hold congressional primaries under current voting districts, though multiple lawsuits contend those are unconstitutional because they are based on the 2010 census and no longer have equal populations.

Missouri is one of only a few states that have yet to enact new congressional districts based on the 2020 census. Though Republicans hold large majorities in the state House and Senate, they have been at loggerheads over how aggressively to draw districts to their favor and which communities to divide.

Republicans currently hold six of Missouri’s eight U.S. House seats. Ashcroft had been among those advocating for an approach that would give Republicans a shot at winning seven of those seats. But some GOP legislative leaders feared that could backfire by spreading Republican voters too thin. The debate more recently has focused on efforts to shore up GOP strength in the 2nd Congressional District in suburban St. Louis, the only one which is relatively competitive.

Earlier this week, the House passed another attempt at a redistricting plan that is now pending in the Senate.

Even if the Senate passes that plan, “my concern is that it will turn out to be too late for all the work that has to be done, and I’m afraid it will cause confusion and problems in the August election, and I do not want that to happen,” Ashcroft said.

His concerns were echoed by Shane Schoeller, president of the Missouri Association of County Clerks & Election Authorities.

If the Legislature were to pass a redistricting plan by Friday and Gov. Mike Parson were to quickly sign it, election authorities would have only about one week to make the necessary changes before the state’s centralized voter registration system is locked in place on May 25 for the preparation of ballots that must be available for absentee voters in mid-June, Schoeller said.

“If they’re concerned about fair and accurate elections, they cannot pass a map this week and be assured that the congressional districts will be accurate when voters go to vote,” said Schoeller, a Republican who is the Greene County clerk.

The time crunch poses a problem primarily for counties that are split among multiple congressional districts. The latest redistricting plan passed by the state House would split several counties in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, as well as Columbia’s home of Boone County, Webster County to the east of Springfield, and Camden County, which contains part of the Lake of the Ozarks.

Originally posted by ap.org

Biden’s dilemma on inflation: Blaming the Republicans isn’t a winning strategy, analysts say

WASHINGTON – The White House’s initial strategy for dealing with inflation was to assure Americans that rising prices were a short-term problem fueled by the coronavirus pandemic.

But after inflation hit a 40-year highPresident Joe Biden is trying a different, two-pronged approach: Promise Americans that high prices are the administration’s top priority. Blame Republicans for failing to offer a plan to give Americans relief.

The problem with that line of attack: Democrats, not Republicans, are in charge in Washington. Blaming the party out of power for the current state of affairs is seldom a winning strategy, political analysts said.

“There’s just not a lot of evidence that these kind of arguments play to a president’s advantage,” said William Howell, political scientist at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. “In unified or divided government, presidents are held accountable for objective measures of the economy – fairly or not.”

President Joe Biden and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visit O'Connor Farms owners Jeff, left, and Gina O'Connor on May 11 in Kankakee, Ill.
President Joe Biden and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visit O’Connor Farms owners Jeff, left, and Gina O’Connor on May 11 in Kankakee, Ill.

Biden got a bit of good news Wednesday when the Labor Department reported that although inflation remained elevated in April, it eased off its 40-year high – a signal that the surge in consumer prices since last summer may have peaked.

Record gas prices and a baby formula shortage

Even so, overall consumer prices edged up 0.3% from March. Record-high gas prices – the average price per gallon was $4.40 on Wednesday, according to AAA – and a baby formula shortage add to the angst many American households feel.

Biden sought to reassure Americans that he understands the pain inflation inflicts.

“I come from a family where, when the price of gas or food went up, we felt it,” he said at the White House on Tuesday. “It was a discussion at the kitchen table.”

In a statement issued after the release of the latest figures on Wednesday, Biden said inflation remains “unacceptably high” and repeated that lowering prices is his administration’s “top economic priority.” He pointed to an initiative to partner with businesses to make high-speed internet more affordable for some low-income Americans as one example of what he’s doing to fight inflation.

Biden’s reassurance that higher prices are his administration’s top priority poses a dilemma for Democrats, who hold not only the White House but slim majorities in the House and the Senate. Inflation is likely to be the top issue in the midterm elections, and voters often punish the party in power for a bad economy.

‘NO SLAM-DUNK SOLUTION’: What can Joe Biden do to tame soaring inflation?

‘There’s a risk … that he appears out of touch’

Considering what’s at stake, Biden had no choice but to try to ease Americans’ concerns, Howell said, but in doing so, he guaranteed that ownership of the issue lies with Democrats.

“This is a matter of such central importance that it’s hard to pivot away from,” Howell said. “If he doesn’t own it, there’s a risk of it owning him, that he appears out of touch with very real concerns that Americans have about gas prices and the rising cost of groceries.”

Baby formula powder is harder to find since Abbott Nutrition issued a recall in February 2022 for select lots of Similac, Alimentum and EleCare formulas that were manufactured at an Abbott facility in Sturgis, Mich.
Baby formula powder is harder to find since Abbott Nutrition issued a recall in February 2022 for select lots of Similac, Alimentum and EleCare formulas that were manufactured at an Abbott facility in Sturgis, Mich.

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said it’s important to connect with voters on the issues they care about most – and, right now, that’s the economy.

“At the same time, if you’re going to consistently address inflation as an issue that’s your top priority, then you have to have action,” he said.

Republicans know that Biden’s blame-the-minority-party strategy won’t work, Bonjean said. They tried it in 2006. George W. Bush was in the White House, and the GOP held majorities in the House and the Senate. But Republicans tried to pin problems with the economy, immigration and other issues on Democrats.

“It failed miserably,” said Bonjean, who served as communications director for then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Republicans lost their majorities in the House and the Senate that fall “because voters see the folks who are in charge as the ones who are supposed to solve the problem,” Bonjean said. “That’s why they were elected.”

WHAT IS TO BLAME?Biden’s $1.9T stimulus caused inflation, critics say. But others argue it saved the economy.

Can Biden do more to tame inflation?

The reality is there isn’t much more the president can do to lower inflation, said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project and a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, a think tank based in Washington.

“They’re doing, I think, all the right things on improving the supply chains and making sure the reports are working well,” Edelberg said. “They should keep doing that.”

Many Americans expect Biden to do more.

Thirty-eight percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing, according to a poll released Wednesday by Fairleigh Dickinson University. Sixty-two percent say the president has “some” or “a lot” of control over inflation, a figure that included 50% of Democrats and 77% of Republicans.

“Figures like these have scholars of the presidency pulling their hair out,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of government and politics at the university and executive director of the poll. “Inflation right now is a global problem: There’s nothing the president of the U.S. can do about it. But Americans are expecting him to do something.”

One immediate move Biden could do to address price hikes is reducing tariffs, Edelberg said. The president said Tuesday that the White House is reviewing tariffs imposed on China during the Trump administration.

“It would have been a welcome step a long time ago,” Edelberg said. “It would be a welcome step now.”

The labor market is not the driving force behind inflationary pressure, Edelberg said, but it eventually could be. The White House should be proactive in addressing that, she said.

The White House could push for better infrastructure to help people get back to work and make it easier to stay in their job, Edelberg said. For example, she noted, ensuring people have access to paid leave and sick leave would “make it more possible for people to work, and the increase of return on working would have effects.”

A lot of what can be done next to address inflation relies on monetary policymakers, such as the Federal Reserve Bank.

“Monetary policy is now taking pretty aggressive steps to do what it can to slow the economy to slow demand for goods and services,” Edelberg said.

Michael Collins and Rebecca Morin cover the White House. Follow Collins on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS and Morin @RebeccaMorin_.

Contributing: Maureen Groppe and Paul Davidson

FUEL COSTS: Will gas prices ease with Biden’s release from strategic reserve? Experts say it’s not enough

HIGH-SPEED INTERNET: Major internet providers to slash cost of broadband service for low-income Americans

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Will Biden’s blame-the-Republicans strategy on inflation work?

Ilhan Omar calls for Israel to be held accountable for ‘human rights violations’ over killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh

  • Rep. Ilhan Omar denounced the killing of veteran journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
  • Omar called for Israel to be held accountable for “human rights violations.”
  • Abu Akleh, a longtime Al Jazeera journalist, was shot dead on Wednesday while covering Israeli raids in the West Bank.

Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota on Wednesday denounced the killing of veteran Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and called for Israel to be held accountable.

“She was killed by the Israeli military, after making her presence as a journalist clearly known,” the progressive lawmaker tweeted. “We provide Israel with $3.8 billion in military aid annually with no restrictions. What will it take for accountability for these human rights violations?”

Abu Akleh, a longtime journalist for Al Jazeera who was a household name throughout the region, was shot dead in the West Bank on Wednesday while covering Israeli raids in the city of Jenin.

Al Jazeera said in a statement that Israeli forces killed Abu Akleh, condemning it as “a blatant murder, violating international laws and norms.” The news outlet also said that Abu Akleh was wearing press gear that clearly identified her as a journalist when she was killed. Eyewitness reports from her colleagues at the scene and the Palestinian National Authority also said Israeli forces shot and killed Abu Akleh.

Israeli officials did not claim responsibility for the killing. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Abu Akleh could have been shot by Palestinians. Later, Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Aviv Kochavi said it’s currently “not possible” to determine who she was killed by, and said the matter will be investigated, according to CNN.

Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan also spoke out against the murder on Wednesday.

“When will the world and those who stand by Apartheid Israel that continues to murder, torture and commit war crimes finally say: ‘Enough’?” she wrote on Twitter.

“Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered by a government that receives unconditional funding by our country with zero accountability,” Tlaib added.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki denounced the killing on Wednesday but did not explicitly call out Israel.

“We are heartbroken to learn of the killing of Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, and injuries to producer Ali Samoudi, today in the West Bank. We send our deepest condolences to her family, friends, and strongly condemn her killing,” Psaki tweeted.

“We call for an immediate and thorough investigation and full accountability. Investigating attacks on independent media and prosecuting those responsible are of paramount importance,” she wrote in a follow-up tweet.

“We will continue to promote media freedom and protect journalists’ ability to do their jobs without fear of violence, threats to their lives or safety, or unjust detention. Her death is a tragic loss and an affront to media freedom everywhere,” Psaki went on to say.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Wednesday signaled that the Biden administration will not call for an independent investigation into the killing. “The Israelis have the wherewithal and the capabilities to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation,” Price told reporters during a press briefing.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for a “thorough, objective investigation” into Abu Akleh’s killing, decrying it as a “horrific tragedy.”

The killing comes amid a tough period in US-Israel relations. Though it was long taboo to express criticism of Israel in Washington, progressive Democrats in recent years have become increasingly critical of the Israeli government over its treatment of Palestinians.

A number of these critics have called for the US to begin conditioning aid to Israel in relation to the occupation and peace process. This has placed President Joe Biden at odds with segments of the Democratic party when it comes to Israel, and he’s faced pressure from such lawmakers to take a firmer stance against human rights violations by the Israeli government.

This growing intraparty schism regarding US-Israel relations became especially apparent during the Israel-Hamas conflict last year as Biden faced fierce criticism from lawmakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. As the Biden administration expressed support for Israel’s right to defend itself amid the fight, Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives accused the president of ignoring the underlying causes of the violence — as well as what they viewed as disproportionate military actions by Israeli forces.

Top human rights groups have accused both Israel and Hamas of committing apparent war crimes during last year’s fighting. The 11-day conflict in May 2021 saw 260 Palestinians killed in Gaza, including at least 129 civilians and 66 children, per the UN. Twelve Israeli civilians were also killed during the same period.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Republican senator’s push to arrest abortion protesters meets GOP resistance

WASHINGTON — Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., wants the abortion-rights protesters demonstrating in front of the homes of Supreme Court justices to be swiftly arrested and prosecuted by the Justice Department.

Some of his Republican colleagues, however, say that would go too far and that it could violate First Amendment protections.

“I think if they’re being peaceful and are staying off their property and are not disrupting neighborhoods or causing or inciting fear, it’s probably a legitimate expression of free speech,” Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., a former member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said Wednesday.

“First Amendment rights are so, so special. … We should all be erring in favor of the First Amendment, in favor of freedom of speech, in favor of freedom of religion, in favor of the freedom of assembly,” she said. “Because if we start fearing our rights to speak and express our religious convictions, and if we fear assembly, the consequences of parsing those rights are extremely dangerous.”

Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said he, too, believes peaceful protests — even outside the homes of justices — is protected speech.

“I’m a First Amendment guy, and I think that cuts both ways,” Braun said in an interview. “If they’re there and they’re doing it peacefully, you know, I’m for that ability on either side of the political spectrum.”

Protesters have been chanting and holding up signs in front of the homes of three conservatives: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito, who wrote the leaked majority draft opinion that would overturn the constitutional right to abortion enshrined nearly a half-century ago in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

More demonstrations are planned for Wednesday night at conservative justices’ homes in the Washington area.

In a stern letter Tuesday to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Cotton slammed “left-wing mobs” that have protested outside the homes of conservative justices after the draft opinion leaked.

Cotton, who said in 2020 he supported the use of military force to suppress the protests against police violence sparked by the murder of George Floyd, called the recent protests illegal and a “blatant violation” of a 1950 law that says anyone who “pickets or parades” near a building or residence used by a judge with the intent of influencing the judge shall face fines or imprisonment. If the Justice Department doesn’t act, Cotton told Garland, perhaps the next Congress should begin impeachment proceedings.

Cotton, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, said Wednesday in an interview: “There is a federal law that prohibits the protesting of judges’ homes. Anybody protesting a judge’s home should be arrested on the spot by federal law enforcement.” He added that if his Senate GOP colleagues “want to raise a First Amendment defense, they are free to do so.”

“I don’t advocate for arresting people protesting on public streets in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital. I do believe they should be arrested for protesting in the homes of judges, jurors and prosecutors,” Cotton said. “Federal law prohibits an obvious attempt to influence or intimidate judges, jurors and prosecutors.”

Cotton spoke the same day Senate Republicans — along with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. — blocked a Democratic-backed bill that would have codified abortion rights into federal law.

Asked whether he believed people could legally protest at the home of an elected official such as himself, Cotton replied: “I generally suggest protesting in public spaces, not in front of public homes of any person. But that’s not against federal law. That’s why Chuck Schumer is wrong.”

Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate majority leader, told reporters Tuesday that he was OK with people peacefully protesting outside the justices’ homes, saying such demonstrations are “the American way” and noting that people protest in front of his home in New York “three, four times a week.”

The White House has stood behind the protesters — so long as they remain peaceful.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that President Joe Biden believes “violent threats and intimidation of any kind have no place in political discourse.” But she said the White House understands the “outrage” in the country over the potential loss of abortion rights.

“And we believe, of course, in peaceful protests,” she said. “And we certainly continue to encourage that outside of judges’ homes, and that’s the president’s position.”

Cotton isn’t on an island. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the protests were “far outside the bounds of normal First Amendment speech or protest,” adding, “It is an attempt to replace the rule of law with the rule of mobs.”

And Wednesday, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, demanded in a letter to Garland that the Justice Department protect justices and prosecute the targeted justices’ homes.

At the state level, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan tweeted Wednesday night that he and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin had called on Garland to “provide adequate resources” to ensure the safety of Supreme Court justices and their families. In their letter, the GOP governors asked the Justice Department to enforce the 1950 law cited by Cotton.

Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said in a statement that Garland continues to be briefed on security matters related to the justices and has directed the U.S. Marshals Service to “help ensure the Justices’ safety” by assisting the Supreme Court police and the court marshal.

Some Republican senators said there can be a middle ground when it comes to the demonstrations.

Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas, the son of a police officer, said he would like authorities to engage in dialogue with and issue warnings to the protesters before they make any arrests.

“I would prefer a softer approach. I would prefer some type of warning to the crowd, much like getting a speeding ticket,” Marshall said. “Sometimes there’s a place for a warning, so I’d like to see those crowds get warnings before we move all the way to prosecution.”

Other GOP senators said they were unsure whether protesting outside a judge’s home qualifies as breaking the law, but they also condemned the recent demonstrations.

“Whether or not it’s legal, it’s inappropriate, and they should not be harassing the justices,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who called police this week after protesters wrote messages in chalk outside her home urging her to vote for a Democratic abortion rights measure.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who’s also had protesters outside his home before, said the Supreme Court grounds are where people should make their voices heard.

“I think generally that a justice’s home should not be the place that we protest,” Romney said. “We’ve got a Supreme Court building, and that’s probably the best place to do that.”

Originally posted by nbcnews.com

‘The great MAGA king’: Biden sharpens midterm attacks

Joe Biden midterm mode has officially been activated.

The president traveled the country on Wednesday, sharpening his lines of attack against the Republican Party as primary season kicks into full gear. Throughout the day, he laid into the GOP and baited former President Donald Trump, even testing a new nickname for his predecessor: the great MAGA king.

“Look at my predecessor, the great MAGA king — the deficit increased every single year he was president,” Biden said in Chicago at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers International convention, contrasting the deficit reductions during his tenure with Trump’s term.

With a little over six months to go until the November midterms — what is often a referendum on the president’s performance — Biden is moving into full-fledged campaign mode. The noticeable change in tone comes as economic concerns hover over Democrats’ prospects and the White House tests out a new strategy — painting a clear picture of the differences between Democrats and Trump and his followers.

With his MAGA king nickname, Biden was just getting started. At a DNC fundraiser later Wednesday, the president called his 2020 victory against Trump a “low bar,” and dug into his favorite phrase of late, “MAGA Republicans,” twice calling these politicians “petty,” “mean-spirited” and “extreme.”

“They are cowered by Trump,” Biden said, telling the audience that Democrats have to make their case in 2022. “The fact of the matter is, they run the show — the MAGA Republicans. … It really is beyond the pale.”

The president, speaking to roughly 40 guests, said the GOP has a “radical agenda” and said it isn’t “your father’s Republican Party.”

“It’s one thing to take on Disney World,” he said, referring to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ battle with Walt Disney Co. over his “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. “They’re going to storm Cinderella’s castle before this is over.”

While Biden said that the disclosure of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade could spark enthusiasm in Democratic voters, he didn’t shy away from acknowledging the rough road ahead for his party.

“Inflation is going to scare the hell out of everybody,” the president said.

Republicans and Joe Manchin block Democrats’ bill codifying Roe v. Wade’s abortion rights protections

  • The Senate failed to advance a bill that would enshrine abortion rights in federal law.
  • All 50 GOP senators and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin opposed the bill.
  • The bill follows a leaked draft opinion that suggests the Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade.

The Senate on Wednesday failed to advance a Democratic-led bill that would enshrine abortion rights in federal law, an expected outcome given broad Republican opposition. All 50 Republican senators, along with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, opposed the bill in a 49-51 vote.

Democratic leaders brought the legislation forward in response to a draft opinion leaked last week that suggested the Supreme Court appears ready to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that legalized abortion nationwide nearly 50 years ago.

But Wednesday’s procedural vote was mostly a symbolic gesture, considering Democrats, who only hold a narrow majority in the Senate, did not have enough support to overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer characterized the vote as putting Republicans on the record with their opposition to abortion rights. The bill would have protected abortion access across the country and ensured the procedure remains legal in every state without additional restrictions.

“This is not an abstract exercise. It’s as real, it’s as urgent as it gets,” Schumer said last week when announcing the vote. “All of America will be watching. Republicans will not be able to hide from the American people and cannot hide from their role in bringing Roe to an end.”

Manchin, an abortion opponent who represents a conservative state, said on Wednesday that he was against the bill because it went further than just codifying Roe into federal law.

“It’s just disappointing that we’re going to be voting on a piece of legislation which I would not vote for today,” Manchin told reporters ahead of the vote. “But I would vote for Roe v. Wade codification if it was today.”

Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who said they support abortion rights and have offered a more limited piece of legislation to codify Roe, also voted against Wednesday’s bill.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who presided over the vote, expressed her disappointment at the final tally.

“Sadly, the Senate failed to stand in defense of a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body,” Harris told reporters immediately following the vote.

“This vote clearly says that the Senate is not where the majority of Americans are in this nation,” she added, calling on voters to elect pro-abortion rights leaders at the local, state, and federal levels.

Schumer attempted to use the failed vote to draw a sharp distinction between Democrats and Republicans’ stances on abortion ahead of the November elections.

“The contrast is pretty obvious,” Schumer told reporters after the vote.

“Elect more MAGA Republicans if you want there to be a nationwide abortion ban,” he continued. “Elect more pro-choice Democrats, if you want to see the right to choose, a woman’s freedom available” across the country.

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington sat stoically on the Senate floor as the vote took place.

“I am angry, and I am disappointed,” she told reporters.

“I say to women across America, like me and so many others, now is not the time to back down, or sit down,” Murray said. “Now is the time to lift up our voices and fight back. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Before the vote, dozens of House Democrats, led by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Pro Choice Caucus, and the Democratic Women’s Caucus, marched over to the Senate in a show of support for abortion rights.

The Senate previously failed to advance the Women’s Health Protection Act in February. The House passed its version of the bill in September. President Joe Biden has expressed his support for the legislation and has called on Congress to send him a bill to codify Roe.

The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision on the major abortion-rights case by late June or early July. If Roe is overturned, 13 states with so-called trigger laws would ban abortion, and several other GOP-led states are expected to impose restrictions on the procedure.

Read the original article on Business Insider

In an Uphill Year, Democrats of All Stripes Worry About Electability

On Monday night, several left-leaning congressional candidates joined an emergency organizing call with activists reeling from a draft Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade. A somber Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, opening the discussion, acknowledged that Democrats held control in Washington but were nonetheless “in an uphill battle for change.”

The moment, she said, demanded leaders “who know how to get in the fight and who know how to win.”

Tensions over how to execute on both of those ambitions — pushing effectively for change, while winning elections — are now animating Democratic primaries from Pennsylvania to Texas to Oregon, as Democrats barrel into an intense new season of intraparty battles.

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For the first months of 2022, Republican primaries have dominated the political landscape, emerging as key measures of former President Donald Trump’s sway over his party’s base. But the coming weeks will also offer a window into the mood of Democratic voters who are alarmed by threats to abortion rights, frustrated by gridlock in Washington and deeply worried about a challenging midterm campaign environment.

Some contests are shaped by policy debates over issues like climate and crime. House primaries have been deluged with money from a constellation of groups, including those with ties to cryptocurrency, pro-Israel advocacy and an intervening national party, sometimes resulting in backlash. And in races that could be consequential in the general election, national party leaders have openly taken sides, turning some House primaries into proxy battles over the direction of the party.

Tuesday night’s Democratic House primary in the Omaha, Nebraska, area attracted less of that national fervor, but it may lay the groundwork for a competitive general election. Rep. Don Bacon, a Republican representing a district President Joe Biden won, defeated a vocally left-leaning Democratic contender in 2018 and 2020.

Democrats hope to make inroads there this year despite a brutal national climate, and on Tuesday nominated state Sen. Tony Vargas, who has emphasized his governing experience and background as the son of immigrants.

Jane Kleeb, chair of Nebraska’s Democratic Party, said recent primary contests had been shaped above all by moderate-vs.-progressive divisions. This time around, she said, voters appeared focused much less on ideological labels and much more on policy proposals and electoral viability. It is a reflection of the urgent concerns held by many Democratic voters around the country who, above all else, worry that their party will lose its congressional majorities in Washington.

“There is a less ideological mood — I think that Democrats, especially in our state, feel like we’re fighting for every office we can get,” she said. “People want to win, but I also think the word ‘progressive’ is not enough. Voters are really wanting to know what the candidate stands for and what they’re going to do when they get into office.”

Beginning next Tuesday, the Democratic primary season accelerates, headlined by the marquee Senate Democratic primary in Pennsylvania. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has consistently led sparse public polling against Rep. Conor Lamb of suburban Pittsburgh and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta of Philadelphia.

The race, in one of the few states where Democrats have a solid chance of picking up a Senate seat, has focused heavily on what it will take to win the general election. Fetterman promises to improve Democratic standing in rural Trump territory, while Lamb, a polished Marine veteran, often cites his record of winning in a challenging House district.

That theme has echoed in a handful of upcoming House primaries, highlighting fierce Democratic disagreements over what the party’s candidates need to do or show to win this November.

In Oregon, Rep. Kurt Schrader, the well-funded chair of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition’s political arm who has Biden’s endorsement, faces a challenge from Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a small-business owner and emergency response coordinator who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2018.

This time, McLeod-Skinner has amassed considerable support from local institutions, as well as from left-leaning groups including the Working Families Party (which convened the Monday meeting that Warren addressed).

Several county Democratic Party organizations in Oregon, ordinarily expected to back the incumbent or remain neutral, endorsed McLeod-Skinner and urged the House Democratic campaign arm, which is supporting Schrader, to stay out of the primary. Johanna Warshaw, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, noted that the organization’s “core mission is to reelect Democratic members.”

Schrader’s supporters and some national Democrats believe he has a better shot in a fall election that may be robustly competitive. But McLeod-Skinner’s supporters argue that she can galvanize Democratic voters in a year when Republicans have been widely thought to have the edge on enthusiasm.

Democrats should “want a candidate who Democrats are enthusiastic about,” said Leah Greenberg, co-founder and co-executive director of the Indivisible Project, a grassroots group. Citing “local frustration,” she added, “Kurt Schrader is not that candidate.”

In a statement, Schrader’s spokesperson, Deb Barnes, said he has a proven ability to “bring everyone together — rural, urban and suburban — to find common ground and deliver wins that make a real difference.”

Electability is playing out in a different way in South Texas, where Jessica Cisneros is challenging Rep. Henry Cuellar, the most staunchly anti-abortion Democrat in the House, in a district where conservative Democrats have often thrived.

Cisneros has strong support from national left-leaning leaders, and abortion rights advocates believe Democratic outrage around that issue will help her in the May 24 runoff and beyond.

“When we defeat the anti-choice Democrat, that’s going to set the tone for the rest of the midterms,” Cisneros said.

But other national Democrats plainly see Cuellar as a stronger fit in a more culturally conservative district that may become a heated general-election battleground.

“We ought not have a litmus test of who and what makes one a Democrat,” said Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking House Democrat, who campaigned with Cuellar last week.

Still, there are sharp divisions over what it means to be an effective Democrat — a dynamic at the heart of high-profile primary battles in recent years, as left-wing contenders defeated several senior incumbents but also faced setbacks, as in Ohio, where Rep. Shontel Brown won a rematch against former state Sen. Nina Turner.

Next Tuesday kicks off a fresh series of tests concerning what kinds of candidates can excite — or reassure — Democratic voters at a perilous moment for their party.

“In 2018 and 2020 they were rebelling against an establishment that lost to Trump,” said Sean McElwee, the founding executive director of Data for Progress, a liberal policy and polling organization. “Now they want people who will pass Biden’s agenda and hold swing seats, and progressives need to make the case that they are the best chance to do that.”

In Pennsylvania, a House primary for the seat around Pittsburgh being vacated by Rep. Mike Doyle, who is retiring, will vividly test that argument. An attorney and former head of the Pennsylvania Securities Commission, Steve Irwin, has amassed the support of much of the party establishment, while Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Mayor Ed Gainey of Pittsburgh are expected to campaign this week with state Rep. Summer Lee, who joined the Monday call with Warren. Jerry Dickinson, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, is also among those vying for the nomination.

In North Carolina, former state Sen. Erica Smith and Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam also participated in the Working Families Party call. Smith, running in the 1st District, is vying to succeed Rep. G.K. Butterfield, who endorsed state Sen. Don Davis. Allam is facing off against opponents including state Sen. Valerie Foushee and Clay Aiken, the former “American Idol” contestant, in the 4th District. There is also a primary in the state’s newly drawn 13th District, which may be competitive in the general election.

In Kentucky’s primary next Tuesday, state Rep. Attica Scott, a vocal leader of the police accountability movement in Louisville, is running to the left of state Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey in the race to succeed Rep. John Yarmuth.

And in the coming weeks, several incumbent House members will face contested primary elections, while t​​he Los Angeles mayoral primary and the recall vote against San Francisco’s district attorney, both on June 7, will gauge the attitudes of typically liberal Californians on issues of crime and homelessness.

Sanders, who has endorsed in several upcoming primaries, cast the moment as “a struggle about whether the Democratic Party is a party of working families” or one of “wealthy campaign contributors.”

But he also offered a grave warning for his party that has implications well beyond primary season.

Because Democrats have so far failed to pass major pieces of their agenda, he said, “There is now a great deal of demoralization among working people, whether they’re Black or white or Latino or Native American, whatever. And I fear very much that the voter turnout for Democrats will not be very high.”

© 2022 The New York Times Company

US draft abortion decision could implicate same-sex marriage, contraception, Biden says

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The draft U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion leaked earlier this month could mean the court will later go after same-sex marriage, contraception, and other rights, President Joe Biden said at a fundraiser on Wednesday in Chicago.

“Mark my words: they’re gonna go after the … Supreme Court decision on the right of same-sex marriages,” Biden told a group of donors, adding that contraception was also on the chopping block.

“You’re going to see these decisions up for grabs and further split the United States. We’re gonna be arguing about things we shouldn’t have to argue about,” he said.

Biden made the remarks after appealing to voters last week to protect abortion rights by backing candidates who support them in November’s elections after the leaked draft showed the court could soon overturn its 1973 decision legalizing abortion.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Writing by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Richard Pullin)

Originally posted by reuters.com

Chinese findings on Mars suggest water existed for longer on planet’s surface

BEIJING (Reuters) – Hydrated minerals discovered by China’s robotic rover on Mars in a vast basin believed to be the site of an ancient ocean suggest water was present on the planet’s surface for longer than previously thought, said Chinese scientists.

According to an analysis of data sent back by the rover, Zhurong, signs of water were detected in sampled minerals from just 700 million years ago, the scientists said in a paper published on Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

Mars is believed to have been wet until about 3 billion years ago, when the planet’s second geological age, known as the Hesperian Epoch, ended. In the current Amazonian period, there is no surface water.

The soil containing the minerals Zhurong sampled had a hard crust that could have been formed by rising ground water or melted ice that had since evaporated, the Chinese scientists wrote.

The Chinese rover has been exploring the vast plain of Utopia Planitia since its landing on the planet in May last year. Zhurong has travelled about 2 kilometres from its landing site as it gathers data on the terrain.

In recent years, data from an orbiting probe operated by the European Space Agency had discovered water under the ice of the planet’s south pole.

Almost all of the water on Mars is locked in its polar ice caps, with very small traces in the planet’s thin atmosphere.

Locating subsurface water is key to determining the planet’s potential for life, as well as providing a permanent resource for any human exploration.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Originally posted by reuters.com

Panasonic keeps profit outlook flat amid price rises, shortages

TOKYO (Reuters) -Panasonic Corp said on Wednesday it expected operating profit growth to be flat this business year as component shortages and rising material costs continued to pose a risk to earnings.

The Japanese company forecast operating profit of 360 billion yen for the year to March 31, 2023, little changed from the 357 billion it made in the previous business year.

That prediction is 5.9% lower than a mean 382.7 billion yen profit based on forecasts from 20 analysts, Refinitiv data shows.

Panasonic makes products ranging from washing machines to industrial machinery.

Like others, it has been hurt by materials prices that shot higher after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Chief Executive Officer Yuki Kusumi said last month the company could not pass all of the price rises on to customers.

It has also been tackling continued shortages of components caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, with strict lockdowns in China spurring concerns of fresh supply chain disruptions.

For its Energy unit, which makes automobile batteries for Tesla Inc, it expects electric vehicle demand to grow and will try to mitigate the higher cost of metals, including lithium, nickel and cobalt, through “price revisions” and “rationalization”. It did not elaborate on that point.

Panasonic also noted risks of suppliers’ factory lockdowns due to COVID-19 and the international situation.

Panasonic supplies batteries to Tesla along with China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd and South Korea’s LG Energy Solution. It plans to build a mega-factory in the United States to build a new and more advanced battery for Tesla, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported in March.

The battery, of 4680 format (46 millimetres wide and 80 millimetres tall), is about five times bigger than those that Panasonic currently supplies, meaning Tesla should be able to lower production costs and improve vehicle range.

In the three months to March 31 Panasonic posted operating profit of 83.3 billion yen, compared with a profit of 31.8 billion yen a year earlier. That result was worse than an estimated mean of 85.5 billion yen profit from nine analysts surveyed by Refinitiv.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Tom Hogue, Simon Cameron-Moore and Bradley Perrett)

originally posted by reuters.com

DeSantis signs bill for Florida students to learn about ‘victims of communism’

Discussions of gender identity and sexual preference are banned in many Florida classrooms because of governor Ron DeSantis’s “don’t say gay” law, alongside dozens of math textbooks blocked for “prohibited topics”.

Now the Republican who has loudly condemned what he sees as the “indoctrination” of young people has made another subject compulsory: students must receive at least 45 minutes’ instruction every November about the “victims of communism”.

In a ceremony Monday at Miami’s iconic Freedom Tower, where tens of thousands of Cuban immigrants fleeing Fidel Castro’s revolution were admitted into the US between 1962 and 1974, DeSantis signed into law House Bill 395, designating 7 November as Victims of Communism Day.

Florida is one of a handful of states to adopt the designation, but is believed to be the first to mandate school instruction on that day.

The instruction will begin in the 2023-2024 school year, DeSantis said, and will require teaching about Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro, as well as “poverty, starvation, migration, systemic lethal violence, and suppression of speech” endured under their leaderships in the Soviet Union, China and Cuba respectively.

DeSantis, mispronouncing the name of the revolutionary leader Che Guevara as “Che Kay-Farra”, railed against students who wear T-shirts he said were oblivious about what communism represented.

“You can see at a college campus students flying the hammer and sickle from the old Soviet Union flag, you will see students that will have T-shirts with Che Guevara, you will see students that will idolize people like Mao Zedong,” he said.

“To me, this speaks of a tremendous ignorance about what those individuals represented and the evils that communism inflicted on people throughout the world. While it’s fashionable in some circles to whitewash the history of communism, Florida will stand for truth and remain as a beachhead for freedom.”

Educators in Florida are banned, however, from teaching students about racial issues, including the history of slavery, if it makes them “feel uncomfortable”, according to DeSantis’s recently signed Stop Woke Act.

DeSantis, seen as a frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has waged a war on perceived “wokeness” and “transgender ideology” in Florida’s campuses and workplaces in recent months.

He is feuding with Disney after the state’s largest private employer opposed the “don’t say gay” law that bans “inappropriate” classroom discussions of LGBTQ+ issues, and which is the subject of a legal challenge.

The governor, who is seeking re-election in November, has signed a number of other bills popular with the Republican base, including a 15-week abortion ban and a “racist” redrawing of Florida’s congressional maps that critics say robs Black voters of representation.

DeSantis’s detractors argue that the governor has focused on culture war issues while ignoring the real challenges facing the state’s residents, such as soaring rents that exacerbate racial inequality.

“Why the hell can we not focus for even a moment on what’s impacting people everyday?” Brandon Wolf, press secretary of Equality Florida, said in a tweet.

Jeanette Nunez, Florida’s lieutenant governor and the daughter of Cuban immigrants, hailed the move as a continuation of DeSantis’s efforts to remove critical race theory from classrooms, despite the fact it is not taught in them.

“We will always ensure that our students are getting the best education free of socialist ideologies and CRT and woke terms that we will not allow,” she said.

Originally posted by theguardian.com

Right-Wingers Rage at Youngkin for Not Arresting Abortion Rights Protesters at Alito’s Home

Virginia’s Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has come under fire from right-wing media personalities for not arresting abortion rights protesters who peacefully demonstrated outside of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s home on Monday evening.

“We have been coordinating with Fairfax County PD, VA State Police, and federal authorities to ensure that there isn’t violence,” Youngkin tweeted Monday night as activists gathered outside the George W. Bush-appointed justice’s home in Alexandria in protest of the leaked draft opinion suggesting Alito and the court’s conservative majority intend to end the federal right to abortion. “Virginia State Police were closely monitoring, fully coordinated with Fairfax County and near the protests,” Youngkin added.

But that tweet did not sit well with right-wing activists online, who have taken to attacking Youngkin over the past day.

“This activity is expressly prohibited by federal law, violent or not. It is a direct attempt to influence one of the most senior judges in America. And you let it happen,” far-right activist Raheem Kassam, formerly the editor of Breitbart UK, fired back at Youngkin on Monday evening. “Shame on you.”

Others right-wing media personalities joined in. Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec tweeted that “Antifa just crossed into a Republican-lead state and were allowed to target Alito’s family home. Glenn Youngkin did nothing.”

“Arrest them,” demanded right-wing YouTube star Tim Pool of the nonviolent protests.

Right-wing personality Will Chamberlain, who also recently targeted a random Supreme Court clerk after the bombshell draft leak, tweeted at Youngkin: “Not good enough. Your job is more than ‘ensure that there isn’t violence.’ It’s to enforce the law.”

Former Trump official Sebastian Gorka wrote: “It’s way too early for you to fail Glenn Youngkin.”

“The Governor and his administration are deeply engaged and in constant coordination with Fairfax County and the state police. We are dedicating substantial resources to assist in the efforts and the Governor’s office has spoken with Fairfax County officials and the US Attorney,” Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter told The Daily Beast on Tuesday afternoon. “Our priority is to ensure the safety of all Virginians, including the Supreme Court Justices at their homes.”

Pro-Trump personalities have specifically latched onto the argument that the protests were illegal under U.S. code 18 U.S.C. 1507 prohibiting the picketing of a judge’s home with the intent of influencing a vote.

This is not the first time MAGA conservatives have turned on Youngkin after helping him win a widely watched off-year election back in November: right-wing figures piled on the then-governor-elect over his hiring of an LGBTQ staffer and his decision to not block local vaccine requirements.

The Monday evening protests culminated in a brief vigil outside Alito’s home, featuring moments of silence and chants including “keep abortion safe and legal” along with some lighthearted ones joking that Alito listens to the much-maligned band Nickelback.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

McConnell calls US abortion ban ‘possible,’ says he won’t change filibuster to pass it

WASHINGTON – Republicans could be on the verge of a long-sought legal victory – striking down Roe v. Wade – but their political candidates are in no rush to talk about it on the campaign trail.

GOP campaign officials are advising candidates to downplay and soft-pedal the prospects of anti-abortion legislation as they battle pro-choice Democrats for control of Congress and various statehouses across the country.

“Be the compassionate, consensus builder on abortion policy,” said an advisory document from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the GOP’s campaign arm in the battle for control of the upper chamber currently split 50-50 between the two parties.

The fight to end Roe:Anti-abortion groups could win a 50-year fight to end Roe. They aren’t stopping there.

A post-Roe world: After Roe? Pro- and anti-abortion rights groups face new landscape in 2022 midterms – and beyond

Republicans are feeling their way, in part because the uptick in activity came after a Supreme Court draft opinion leaked last week indicating that the justices were likely overturn the landmark 1973 case; the actual ruling has not yet been issued.

The GOP will also have to deal with Democrats who are raising millions, energizing their base of voters, and planning to campaign by warning people about the loss of abortion rights, an issue that polls show most Americans support, and plainly has Republicans wary six months before Election Day.

“With regard to the abortion issue, I think it’s pretty clear where Senate Republicans stand,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told USA TODAY in an exclusive interview Thursday. “And if and when the court makes a final decision, I expect everybody will be more definitive. But I don’t think it’s much secret where Senate Republicans stand on that issue.”

Earlier last week, the GOP leader said overturning Roe was “not the story,” preferring to draw attention to the extraordinary leak of a Supreme Court ruling striking down abortion rights.

‘Compassionate on abortion policy’

Behind the scenes, Republican campaign officials are advising candidates to keep their focus on the economy and on President Joe Biden. Those issues, they said, will help them win back control of the House and Senate.

When pressed on abortion – as they surely will be – candidates are being advised not to promote harsh state proposals that would ban most abortions, without exceptions for the health of the mother.

In its memo, the National Republican Senatorial Committee said GOP candidates should talk instead about how Democrats oppose nearly any restrictions of abortions, They cited polls showing that most voters oppose late-term abortions and public assistance to poor women needing abortions.

“The Democrat position is extreme and strident, our position should be based in compassion and reason,” said the memo from the NRSC.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L) makes brief remarks before meeting with Judge Brett Kavanaugh (R) in McConnell's office in the US Capitol, in Washington, DC, on July 10,  2018. President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh to succeed retiring Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The memo gives candidates sample language for statements and media ads. All are soft in tone and avoid the desire by many Republicans to end all abortions, a position that draws fierce opposition.

Example: “I am pro-life, but in reality, forget about the political labels, all of us are in favor of life.”

Democrats and Roe:Could Roe fire up Democrats the way Joe Biden hasn’t? Maybe, but the GOP would be energized, too

What polling shows: More than half of Americans in new poll say Supreme Court should uphold Roe v. Wade

Democrats who are making abortion bans a major campaign issue said Republicans will not be able to escape their support for removing a fundamental right for women. They cited polls showing voter opposition to shutting down access to abortions.

“No memo can change the fact that Republicans are grossly out of step with the American public,” said Nora Keefe, deputy communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The Architect: Mitch McConnell

The emerging Republican strategy is coming in large part from McConnell, in many ways the architect of the Supreme Court ‘s 6-3 conservative majority that is considering the fate of Roe v. Wade.

The longtime GOP leader infuriated Democrats in 2016, when he blocked then-President Barack Obama from filling a court vacancy created by the death of conservative Antonin Scalia. The future of the Supreme Court animated much of the conservative based who fueled Donald Trump’s victory in 2016.

McConnell and elections: A tamer Trump? McConnell confident GOP can retake Senate with ‘restrained’ former president

During Trump’s single term in office, McConnell shepherded dozens of conservative judges into the judiciary, including three Supreme Court nominees to Senate confirmation: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.

In 2018, amid the heated confirmation battle for Kavanaugh, McConnell said putting conservatives on the court was “the single most important thing I’ve been involved in in my career.”

McConnell expressed optimism last month about the GOP’s chances at retaking Congress this year, when he told USA TODAY the “atmosphere could not be better” for Republicans.

“I think clearly the (Republican) campaigns are going to be running against the Biden administration, and history tells us that there’s usually some buyer’s remorse,” he said in April.

A national abortion ban? McConnell says ‘it’s possible’

But McConnell has refused to spike the ball on the possibility of dismantling Roe and instead focused on how the draft opinion came out, saying whoever leaked the draft should “be dealt with as severely as the law may allow.”

He evaded questions about whether Republicans would seek a national abortion ban, which is what anti-abortion leaders seek, should they seize the Senate.

“All of this puts the cart before the horse,” he said.

Asked Thursday if a national ban is something worthy of a debate now, or whether it should wait until after the election, McConnell acknowledged the possibility, even though he considers the discussion premature.

“If the leaked opinion became the final opinion, legislative bodies – not only at the state level, but at the federal level – certainly could legislate in that area,” McConnell said. “And if this were the final decision, that was the point that it should be resolved one way or another in the legislative process. So yeah, it’s possible. It would depend on where the votes were.”

McConnell said that even if the GOP reclaims the Senate, he would not entertain ditching the 60-threshold rule to pass a national abortion ban.

“No carve out of the filibuster – period,” he said. “For any subject.”

Trump, who backs a number of Republicans up and down the ballot, also had a low-key reaction to the likely reversal of Roe vs. Wade. Trump told Fox News, “I don’t think it is going to have a tremendous effect.”

Roe opponents cautiously optimistic

In the wake of the Roe revelation, conservatives close to McConnell are beaming at what the draft opinion could mean for the anti-abortion cause.

“What I’m hearing across the landscape, a lot of folks within the conservative movement and pro-life advocates across the country are very excited with what might ultimately be a published decision from the Supreme Court,” said Republican Daniel Cameron, a McConnell protégé who serves as Kentucky’s attorney general.

Cameron said it’s right for Republican candidates to keep their focus on the economy and the “incompetence” of the Biden administration.

Addia Wuchner, an anti-abortion activist in McConnell’s home state, said the contents of the Alito opinion are a good sign for the 50-year struggle to overturn Roe. But she said there is a lingering concern among right-leaning grassroots advocates about the final decision, given how the draft was released.

“Our excitement was held at bay because of the disappointment at this appalling breach of trust,” she said.

A Democratic adrenaline boost?

McConnell’s inner circle, for the moment, downplays the possibility of an abortion rights surge at the ballot box this fall, hoping to avoid making abortion a banner issue for the midterm elections.

“The entire country is on fire over inflation, the economy, immigration, schools, crime, etc.,” CNN political commentator Scott Jennings, a former McConnell adviser, said in a tweet May 3. “And Democrats new message is to reveal themselves as one issue party (abortion). Not sure this is the midterm panacea they think it is.”

A survey suggests Democrats are more likely to get an adrenaline boost if the court’s conservative majority strikes down Roe.

Morning Consult/Politico poll released Tuesday found liberals are more likely to be energized should Roe fall. It showed 42% of registered voters who lean Democratic say it would be more important to vote for a candidate who agrees with them on abortion, even if they disagree on other issues.

Roughly 31% of Republican voters say the same thing about the midterm elections

Democratic candidates are making McConnell and his influence on the Supreme Court major campaign issues.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe would never have been possible without leader McConnell and Senate Republicans spending years packing our courts with hard right judges,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the floor this week.

He planned a vote Wednesday that will showcase “where every single senators stands” on women’s reproductive rights.

Abortion opponents: Go on offense

Abortion opponents who have advocated for the elimination of Roe v. Wade for decades said Republican candidates should celebrate the achievement on the campaign trail.

They said that abortion is a more animating issue for conservatives than liberals and that the solid base of anti-abortion voters helped elect the senators who put the Supreme Court in place.

Conservatives and Roe: Conservatives spent decades pushing to upend Roe v. Wade. And it’s ‘only the beginning’

Wednesday vote: ‘Sense of urgency’: Senate to vote Wednesday on bill that would make abortion legal nationally

Those voters are eager to elect Republican members of Congress and state legislatures who can pass anti-abortion legislation that would probably be held constitutional, while Democrats seek abortion laws with no restrictions at all.

“Go on offense and expose the extremism of the Democratic Party platform,” said Mallory Carroll, vice president of communications with the Susan B. Anthony List, which plans to spend millions this fall in support of anti-abortion candidates.

Wuchner, who serves as executive director of Kentucky Right to Life, said that if she were advising Republican candidates on how to address Roe being on the brink, she’d tell conservatives to stand firm.

“Our candidates are fiscal conservatives, they’re family value conservative and they bring all of that to the table,” she said. “So to me it’s not something to navigate, you have your first principles and you run on those principles. Those convictions that you stand for – you’re unwavering in those convictions.”

Some conservatives said they worry that Republicans are too sanguine about the fall political storm over abortion. They expressed concern that it may peel away some voters who would otherwise be attracted to the Republican messages on Biden, inflation, gas prices and crime.

GOP candidates must explain their support involves reasonable restrictions on abortion, they said.

“Republicans have to get out ahead of it,” said Heather Higgins, CEO of the organization Independent Women’s Voice, which does not take a stance on abortion issues. She said the GOP must “get away from the hyperbole and the rage machine” of the Democrats.

State-by-state wild card

Many Democrats expect that if Roe is overturned, more abortion rights supporters will come out to vote because the prospect of banning abortion is real.

The issue may not make that much of a difference in U.S. House races because so many districts lean heavily Republican or heavily Democratic.

Primaries matter: Think Congress is too partisan now? Primaries could magnify division as the number of swing districts shrinks

The focus of many political professionals is on the Senate, which is split 50-50. Democrats control the chamber because Vice President Kamala Harris can cast tiebreaking votes.

The fate of the Senate probably rests in six closely contested states: Nevada, Georgia, Arizona, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Any of those races could turn on the abortion issue, and Democrats point out that abortion rights have strong support in all of them.

Democrats hope abortion can turn the tide in GOP-leaning states.

In Ohio, for example, Democratic Senate candidate Tim Ryan began attacking Republican opponent J.D. Vance over abortion hours after the state primaries.

“J.D. Vance and these other folks are telling a mom or a young woman that if she gets raped … the government is going to make you bring that pregnancy to term. That’s insane in a free society.” he said,

Vance responded Thursday by attacking the Democrats’ support for no abortion restrictions. Describing Ryan as a “Kamala Harris stooge,” Vance tweeted that support for late-term abortions is “a barbaric position anywhere in the world (even European nations typically don’t allow abortion after 12 weeks). But it’s an especially radical position in Ohio.”

Analyzing the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade is an evolving process that is hard to calculate at the moment, political experts said.

For one thing, the high court has not issued its definitive ruling.

“Republicans are in good position to have a strong midterm,” said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “Abortion remains one of the few wild cards that could hypothetically change that.

“The scope of the ruling will matter, and despite the leak, we do not know the scope of the actual ruling. I think it’s premature to guess at the possible impact.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: McConnell: National abortion ban is ‘possible’ pending Roe ruling

Biden administration asks U.S. Supreme Court to shun Bayer weedkiller appeal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear Bayer AG’s bid to dismiss claims by customers who contend that its Roundup weedkiller causes cancer, as the company seeks to avoid potentially billions of dollars in damages.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, who represents the administration before the high court, said in a court filing that Bayer’s appeal should be rejected.

Bayer last August filed a petition asking the justices to reverse a lower court’s decision that upheld $25 million in damages awarded to California resident Edwin Hardeman, a Roundup user who blamed his cancer on the German pharmaceutical and chemical giant’s glyphosate-based weedkillers. The Supreme Court in December asked Biden’s administration to provide its views. The justices generally gives deference to the solicitor general’s conclusions.

Bayer has argued that the cancer claims over Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate go against sound science and product clearance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has upheld guidance that glyphosate is not carcinogenic and not a risk to public health when used as indicated on the label.

The lawsuits against Bayer have said the company should have warned customers of the alleged cancer risk.

Prelogar rejected Bayer’s argument that the EPA label approval under a federal law called the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act preempts the “failure to warn” claims brought under state law.

“EPA’s approval of labeling that does not warn about particular chronic risks does not by itself preempt a state-law requirement to provide such warnings,” Prelogar wrote.

The Supreme Court’s decision on whether to take up the matter is being closely watched as Bayer maneuvers to limit its legal liability in thousands of cases.

A company statement said Bayer believes it has “strong legal arguments” to support the Supreme Court taking up the case.

Bayer asked the Supreme Court to review the verdict in Hardeman’s case, which was upheld https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/us-appeals-court-upholds-verdict-that-bayers-roundup-caused-cancer-2021-05-14 by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in May. Hardeman had regularly used Roundup for 26 years at his home in northern California before being diagnosed with a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Originally posted by reuters.com

Running Twitter may be much harder than Elon Musk thinks

On Tuesday, Elon Musk said he would reverse Twitter’s ban of former President Donald Trump, who was booted in January 2021 for inciting violence at the U.S. Capitol, should he succeed in acquiring the social platform for $44 billion.

But the day before, the Tesla CEO also said he agrees with the European Union’s new Digital Services Act, a law that will require big tech companies like Twitter, Google and Facebook parent Meta to police their platforms more strictly for illegal or harmful content such as hate speech and disinformation.

The apparent contradiction underscores the steep learning curve awaiting the world’s richest man once he encounters the complexity of Twitter’s content moderation in dozens of languages and cultures. Twitter has to comply with the laws and regulations of multiple countries while taking into account the reaction of advertisers, users, politicians and others.

“He certainly wouldn’t be the first person to say, ‘I’m going to do this’ and then realize that either they don’t really want to do it or their users don’t want them to do it,” said David Greene, civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Speaking virtually at an auto conference, the Tesla CEO said that Twitter’s ban of Trump was a “morally bad decision” and “foolish in the extreme.”

“I think that was a mistake because it alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice,” said Musk. He said he preferred temporary suspensions and other narrowly tailored punishments for content that is illegal or otherwise “destructive to the world.”

Earlier in the day, Musk met with EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton to discuss the bloc’s online regulations. Thierry told The Associated Press that he outlined to Musk how the EU aims to uphold free speech while also making sure whatever is illegal “will be forbidden in the digital space,” adding that Musk “fully agreed” with him.

In a video Breton tweeted late Monday, Musk said the two had a “great discussion” and added that he agrees with the Digital Services Act, which is expected to get final approval later this year. It threatens Twitter and other Big Tech firms with billions in fines if they don’t police their platforms.

Shares of Twitter dropped 1.5% Tuesday to $47.24 per share. That’s 13 percent below the offer of $54.20 per share that Musk made on April 14, a reflection of Wall Street’s concerns that the deal could still fall through. Musk emphasized Tuesday that it is “certainly not a done deal.”

“If Musk is concerned that many people were upset that Trump was banned, he should see how many more people would be upset if Trump was not banned,” said Kirsten Martin, a professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame. “Musk only appears to be worried about the opinion of a small group of individuals who incite violence or perpetuate hate speech.”

Trump has previously said that he had no intention of rejoining Twitter even if his account was reinstated, telling Fox News last month that he would instead focus on his own platform, Truth Social, which has been mired in problems since its launch earlier this year.

A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment in response to Musk’s remarks.

While Trump was president, his Twitter feed offered a mix of policy announcements, often out of the blue; complaints about the media; disparagement of women, minorities and his perceived enemies; and praise for his supporters, replete with exclamation marks, all-caps, and one-word declarations such as “Sad!”

He fired numerous officials on Twitter and his posts, like his speeches at rallies, were a torrent of misinformation.

In announcing its 2021 ban of Trump, Twitter said his tweets amounted to glorification of violence when read in the context of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and plans circulating online for future armed protests around the inauguration of then President-elect Joe Biden.

Musk’s remarks Tuesday raise questions about whether those banned besides Trump could also return. The long list of people banned from Twitter includes QAnon loyalists, COVID deniers, neo-Nazis and former reality star Tila Tequila, who was suspended for hate speech.

Other Trump allies kicked off Twitter include Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell, Lin Wood and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was permanently banned in January for repeatedly spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccine safety.

White supremacist David Duke and the often violent Proud Boys organization have been banned, along with far-right trolls like one who goes by the name Baked Alaska, who promoted anti-Semitic tropes and faces charges stemming from his involvement in the Jan. 6 attack.

Alex Jones, the creator of Infowars, was permanently banned in 2018 for abusive behavior. Last year, Jones lost a defamation case filed by the parents of children killed in the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting over Jones’ repeated claims that the shooting was fake.

Twitter, Musk said Tuesday, currently has a strong bias to the left, largely because it is located in San Francisco. This alleged bias prevents it from building trust in the rest of the U.S. and the world, he said: “It’s far too random and I think Twitter needs to be much more even handed.”

Twitter declined to comment on Musk’s remarks.

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O’Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island; Krisher reported from Detroit. Associated Press writer David Klepper contributed from Providence, Rhode Island.

Originally posted by ap.org

Jimmy Kimmel Drags ‘Baby’ Elon Musk for Wanting Trump Back on Twitter

On Tuesday night, Jimmy Kimmel returned for his second late-night show since his COVID hiatus, and the comedian still sounded a bit hoarse—but that didn’t stop him from going after Tesla CEO and edgelord Elon Musk.

“Speaking of babies, Elon Musk says that if his deal to buy Twitter goes through, he will reverse the ban on our infant former president, Donald Trump,” explained Kimmel.

Indeed, during remarks at the Financial Times’ Future of the Car conference, Musk explained his reasoning thusly: “Permanent bans should be extremely rare and really reserved for accounts that are bots, or scam, spam accounts… I do think it was not correct to ban Donald Trump. I think that was a mistake, because it alienated a large part of the country and did not ultimately result in Donald Trump not having a voice.” (What it did do, of course, is prevent Trump from inflaming an insurrection or dominating the news cycle.)

“I would reverse the permanent ban,” Musk, who’s made a $44 billion offer to purchase Twitter and would act as its CEO, continued. “I don’t own Twitter yet. So this is not like a thing that will definitely happen, because what if I don’t own Twitter?”

Elon Musk Wants to Run Twitter So He Can Have Friends

Kimmel, naturally, was not impressed with the world’s richest man’s rationale.

“Oh, good, we have the part-time DJ who makes flamethrowers and cars that fart in charge of morality now,” cracked Kimmel. “The guy who named his kids Roman numerals will make sure they don’t do anything foolish.”

Ever since his Twitter bid, Musk has been very accommodating of far-right trolls on the platform and hostile to liberals, signal-boosting the likes of Mike Cernovich, a man best known for spreading the bonkers Pizzagate conspiracy theory (the false claim that Democrats were running a pedophilia ring out of a D.C. pizza shop, which prompted a gunman to fire at the establishment), and Benny Johnson, who transformed into a far-right pundit after being fired from BuzzFeed for plagiarizing countless articles.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

New audio tapes have leaked of Sen. Lindsey Graham saying that Trump ‘went too far’ and ‘plays the TV game,’ while calling Biden the ‘best person to have’ post-January 6

  • New audio has leaked of Sen. Lindsey Graham revealing his feelings about Biden and Trump.
  • In a post-Capitol riot interview, Graham is heard saying he thinks Biden is the “best person” to have.
  • Graham is also heard criticizing Trump in another tape, saying he “plays the TV game” and “went too far.”

New audio tapes have surfaced of Sen. Lindsey Graham, a known Trump ally, criticizing Trump and praising Biden after the January 6 Capitol riot.

The tapes were played on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” during an interview segment with New York Times reporters Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin. Martin interviewed Graham on January 6 directly after the riot, and the senator spoke candidly about then-President-elect Joe Biden and the former president, Trump.

In the first audio clip, Graham said he thought everyone would “come out of this stronger.”

“Moments like this reset. People will calm down. People will say, ‘I don’t want to be associated with that,'” Graham said. “This is a group within a group. What this does, there will be a rallying effect for a while, (then) the country says “We’re better than this.'”

He was then asked if Biden would help make that happen, to which Graham said: “Totally.”

“He’ll maybe be the best person to have,” Graham is heard saying. “I mean, how mad can you get at Joe Biden?”

In a second audio tape played on CNN, Graham is heard saying in an interview after the riot that he thought Trump “misjudged the passion,” criticizing the former president’s actions.

“He plays the TV game and he went too far here,” Graham said. “That rally didn’t help, talking about primarying Liz (Cheney.) He created a sense of revenge.”

Graham was likely referring to a part of Trump’s speech at the Ellipse on January 6, 2021, when Trump suggested that his supporters “primary the hell” out of those who do not fight to overturn the election.

Graham is known to be a staunch ally of the former President. However, Graham may have had a more complicated view of Trump. In Burns and Martin’s new book “This Will Not Pass,” they claim that Graham threatened to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office during the Capitol riot. Trump later mocked Graham, calling him a “progressive senator” from South Carolina” during a March fundraising dinner at Mar-a-Lago.

Graham has also publicly criticized Trump for floating the possibility of pardons for Capitol rioters, calling Trump’s idea “inappropriate.” This then prompted Trump to call Graham a RINO, a GOP insult meaning “Republican in name only.” The term has been used often against Trump critics like GOP Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.

Read the original article on Business Insider