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Opinion | A Senate Recess Can Wait. Americans Need Help Now.

After three weeks in session, the United States Senate emptied out again on Friday, as lawmakers fled Washington for the Memorial Day recess. They left without even pretending to tackle the next round of coronavirus relief.

This is how the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, wants it. Many Republicans, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, are reluctant to embrace more government spending, so Mr. McConnell is taking a wait-and-see approach.

The Democratic-led House passed a $3 trillion relief package on May 15. That bill was imperfect but it was something. Mr. McConnell, on the other hand, has repeatedly said he’s in no hurry for the Senate to offer its own proposal. He has put talks on an indefinite pause, saying he wants to see how the economy responds to previous relief measures. The Senate may get around to putting together a plan when it reconvenes next month. Or perhaps it will in July.

This course of inaction is unsustainable. Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, warned this week that the economic damage from the pandemic could stretch through the end of next year. Over the past nine weeks, new jobless claims have hit nearly 39 million, and the official unemployment rate is expected to approach 20 percent this month. Behind these numbers are real people suffering significant hardship. The Senate’s sluggish response in addressing this suffering has begun to discomfit even some of Mr. McConnell’s fellow Republicans.

“I think June doesn’t need to come and go without a phase four,” said Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi on Wednesday, referring to the next round of aid.

Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine — both facing tough re-election races — have been especially eager to assure constituents that they take their pain seriously. “Congress has a tremendous responsibility to help mitigate the impact of this crisis on our states and our local communities and on the families they serve,” Ms. Collins said in a floor speech on Wednesday. “We must not wait. We should act now.”

Republicans should keep the pressure on Mr. McConnell and prepare to intensify their push for action when the Senate reconvenes.

The relief package passed by the House is a sprawling jumble of measures. It was not intended as a serious legislative blueprint so much as a maximal opening bid in a high-stakes negotiation. It includes everything from mandating masks on Amtrak trains to establishing new protections for inspectors general to funding environmental justice research.

There is plenty to like in the plan, including $875 billion in direct aid to hard-hit state and local governments, which are seeing revenues fall even as the demand for services skyrockets. But it is neither expansive nor creative enough to meet this moment.

With unemployment predicted to stay high through 2021, lawmakers need to do more to help those Americans whose jobs have vanished, many never to return. In an earlier round of aid, Congress approved an extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits through late July. The new House bill would extend the extra weekly benefits through January and allow workers to receive benefits beyond the usual limit of 26 weeks.

This is not enough. There is no reason to set an arbitrary finish line for federal aid. People need help for as long as the crisis lasts. The Senate needs to embrace the proposal by two Democratic senators, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Jack Reed of Rhode Island, to maintain the supplemental benefits until unemployment settles back at a more normal level. (Senator Bennet’s brother James, The Times’s editorial page editor, was not involved in this editorial.)

Congress still has an opportunity to limit further job losses. Senators should take up the proposal by Senator Josh Hawley, the Missouri Republican, that would provide employers enough money to meet 80 percent of payroll costs. The United Kingdom, France and Germany have implemented versions of this measure, focused on preserving jobs rather than waiting to deal with the fallout of job losses.

Lawmakers need to start thinking beyond the near term. One obvious way to drive economic recovery while looking to the future: a major infrastructure package.

Shoring up roads and bridges, updating lead-riddled water systems, investing in broadband and renewable energy — the United States has a nearly limitless number of projects that need to be addressed. (Parts of Central Michigan are underwater right now, and 10,000 people have been evacuated, following two catastrophic dam failures.) Interest rates are low, and workers are readily available. The government can ease the nation’s pain by spending while the private sector is convalescing.

President Trump has long expressed an openness to infrastructure investment. Some Republican lawmakers are sounding similarly inclined. “I want to do infrastructure,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told CNN this week, noting that he’d told the president this “really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give a face-lift to the country.”

Some of these proposals would be heavier political lifts than others. But it’s time for Mr. McConnell to stop his foot-dragging and get serious about making America work again.

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Former Detroit Mayor Sentenced to 28 Years in Prison for 24 Felonies to be Released Early Due to Pandemic

Former mayor of Detroit, Michigan Kwame Kilpatrick is expected to be released from federal prison after serving only seven years of a 28-year sentence.

Supporters of Kilpatrick, including Ebony Magazine, the NAACP and the National Baptist Convention of America, had lobbied for his release. After five inmates died as a result of coronavirus in the prison where Kilpatrick was held, Attorney General William Barr asked that qualifying prisoners be remanded to home confinement. Kilpatrick is expected to go through a quarantine period before entering home confinement in June.

“While there has been a lot of debate about [Kilpatrick’s] guilt or innocence, we were arguing neither, rather, we were opposing the excessive nature and length of his sentence,” said Reverend Keyon S. Payton, National Director Community Outreach and Engagement for Ebony Magazine in a Friday statement. “Kwame Kilpatrick’s punishment of a 28-year sentence did not fit the crime.”

Michigan state representative Karen Whitsett told Detroit television station WJBK on Thursday that she had been personally told by President Donald Trump that Kilpatrick would be released.

Newsweek reached out to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for comment. This story will be updated with any response.


Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is expected to be released from federal prison after serving seven years of a 28-year-long sentence,
Bill Pugliano/Getty

In 2018, Kilpatrick wrote a blog post in which he hoped to receive a pardon from the president. “My family has forgiven me,” Kilpatrick said. “I have asked the people of the city of Detroit for forgiveness many times, and most Detroiters have forgiven me, as well.”

Kilpatrick resigned as mayor in 2008 after a scandal involving an affair with his chief of staff, Christine Beatty. He was also accused of having three police officers removed from their positions. When the officers filed suit against the city, Kilpatrick allegedly used public funds to settle the lawsuit. Kilpatrick and Beatty attempted to keep their affair secret but text messages between the two were uncovered. As a result, Kilpatrick was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice. As part of a plea deal, Kilpatrick pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. Kilpatrick was also made to forfeit his law license and pay the city of Detroit $1 million in restitution.

After an investigation by federal authorities, Kilpatrick was indicted in 2013 on 24 felony counts, including racketeering, mail fraud and wire fraud. According to information from the FBI, Kilpatrick took over $500,000 from state funds and non-profit organizations. He allegedly spent the money on vacations, spa visits and golf clubs.

Kilpatrick was also accused of conspiring with contractor Bobby Ferguson. According to the FBI, municipal contractors were “coerced” to include Ferguson in public contracts. Those contracts were also constructed to ensure that Ferguson received a portion of the money from those contracts.

“Ferguson obtained at least $73 million in revenues from municipal contracts through this scheme, a portion of which he shared with his co-conspirators,” said a 2013 FBI press release.

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Coronavirus fears and warnings as Memorial Day kicks off

Memorial Day Weekend traditionally means family barbecues, road trips, crowded parks and carefree days spent basking by the water, but Americans venturing out after weeks of sheltering in place are being asked not to let up their guard as the coronavirus continues to spread.

Brushing aside warnings by public-health officials about the ongoing risk of holding large gatherings, President Trump called on governors to reopen churches “right now, for this weekend” during a news briefing at the White House on Friday.

“Today I am identifying houses of worship, churches, synagogues and mosques as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump said. “Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It’s not right.”

“These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united,” he said, while expressing confidence that religious leaders will work ensure that their congregations will be safe.

He vowed to “override” any governor who refused to do so. A White House spokeswoman later acknowledged the decision would be “up to the governors.”

In-person religious services have been vectors for coronavirus transmission. A person who attended a Mother’s Day service at a church in Northern California that defied the governor’s closure orders later tested positive, exposing more than 180 churchgoers. And a choir practice at a Washington state church was labeled by the CDC as an early “superspreading” event.

More than 95,800 people in the U.S. have died of COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking the data.

Visitors to public spaces around the country can expect distancing restrictions and many closures.

At the famous beachside boardwalk at New York’s Coney Island, residents can stroll on the sand and even dip their feet in the ocean, but swimming is still banned, and people in the nation’s largest and hardest-hit city are being encouraged to keep their distance from each other.

Residents are free to enjoy the sand and surf in Virginia Beach, but that city’s mayor, Bobby Dyer, said 150 “beach ambassadors” would be dispatched to ask residents who are congregating in large groups to comply with social-distancing rules.

Dyer delivered a sobering message to weekend revelers during an address Friday.

To prevent an uptick in COVID-19 cases during over the weekend and throughout the reopening, he said, people must maintain social distancing and immediately self-quarantine if they feel sick.

“Folks, the simple fact is, if we do not voluntarily comply with these measures, we may have no choice but to move to even stricter quarantines and curfews,” Dyer said.

“Parents must take responsibility for their children, and young people must understand that they are not invincible and in fact could be carriers of the virus and infect people around them,” he said. “If there was ever a time for each of us to behave responsibly to protect the welfare of others, it is now. We can live with the inconvenience now so we don’t have to live with regrets later.”

In Wyoming, visitors can once again visit Old Faithful and other attractions in Yellowstone National Park’s lower section following the decision to reopen some entrances this week.

But Disney fans will have to wait a while longer for the Magic Kingdom and the company’s other theme parks in the Central Florida to come back to life. The company could submit its plans for reopening to officials in Orange County, Fla., where Walt Disney World’s resorts are located, as soon as next week, the county’s mayor, Jerry Demings, told CNBC on Thursday.

Universal Orlando has told county officials it plans to reopen in early June.

The casinos, clubs and live shows of the Las Vegas Strip also remain shuttered for now, with the Venetian expected to become the first major resort to reopen in early June.

All 50 states have now at least partially reopened as of this week, but polls have shown that the majority of Americans fear a rebound in COVID-19 cases as officials loosen restrictions on businesses and public spaces like parks and beaches.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp took to Twitter on Thursday night to try to reassure worried residents of his state, announcing that the number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations in his state had dropped below 1,000, which he said represents a 38% decrease since May 1.

Georgia public health officials have been under pressure in recent days because of flaws in their COVID-19 data collection methods and mistakes on their publicly viewable tracking website.

Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx gave a mostly upbeat assessment of the nation’s progress when speaking to reporters at the White House on Friday. But she singled out Los Angeles as one of three metro areas that, despite strong measures, has plateaued in the number of cases.

“Even though Washington has remained closed, L.A. has remained closed, Chicago has remained closed, we still see these ongoing cases,” she said.

She said she has asked the CDC to work with those areas “to really understand where are these new cases coming from, and what do we need to do to prevent them in the future.”

As of Thursday night, Los Angeles County had more than 43,000 confirmed cases in Los Angeles and 2,049 deaths, according to the county health department.

Nationwide, the coronavirus outbreak is hitting people of color especially hard.

Blacks make up an estimated 30% of those whose who’ve died from the disease, despite only representing 13% of the U.S. population, according to data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But it’s not just that blacks and Latinos are overrepresented among those killed by the virus.

Blacks and Latinos are more likely than whites to know someone who has died from the disease or its complications, according to an ABC News/Ipsos poll released Friday.

While only a small percentage of Americans overall — 15% — said they personally know someone who’s died in the outbreak, 25% of nonwhite respondents said they do, compared with 10% of whites. Blacks were the most heavily impacted group among those surveyed, with a third saying they know someone who’s died from COVID-19.

There was also a racial divide when the poll’s 773 respondents were asked whether they were confident that they could get a test if they needed one. Seventy-five percent of white respondents expressed confidence, compared with 65% of nonwhites.

Even though the outbreak has ravaged black communities, it hasn’t dampened black voters’ enthusiasm for casting ballots in the upcoming general election, according to a poll taken in early May by the African American Research Collaborative.

Two thirds of blacks say they’re almost certainly going to vote in presidential election in November, with more than half of black registered voters — 57% — saying that the coronavirus outbreak and its economic fallout make them more inclined to vote this time than they were in 2016 when Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee, the researchers said.

“The pandemic is not seeming to stop voting in the upcoming election,” Dr. Ray Block, a spokesman for AARC, said during a news conference on Tuesday.

Times staff writer Eli Stokols in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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Moderna execs dumped nearly $30 million of stock after coronavirus vaccine news

Moderna’s chief financial officer and chief medical officer executed options and sold nearly $30 million of shares combined on Monday and Tuesday, SEC filings reviewed by CNN Business show.
After spiking to as high as $87 on Monday, Moderna’s stock price has since retreated below $70 as medical experts have debated the importance of the early findings.

The securities transactions were done through automated insider trading plans, known as 10b5-1 plans, that lay out future stock trades at set prices or on set dates.

Lorence Kim, Moderna’s chief financial officer, exercised 241,000 options for $3 million on Monday, filings show. He then immediately sold them for $19.8 million, creating a profit of $16.8 million.

The next day, Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, spent $1.5 million to exercise options. He immediately sold the shares for $9.77 million, triggering a profit of $8.2 million.

Moderna said the sales were executed under 10b5-1 trading plans that were established in advance. “These transactions are executing automatically pursuant to these trading plans,” the company said.

Although the fortuitous timing of the transactions may raise eyebrows, Charles Whitehead, professor at Cornell Law School, said the stock sales did not appear to raise any legal red flags.

“On its face, there is nothing wrong with these trades,” Whitehead said. “It’s what a 10b5-1 plan is intended for, assuming the requirements are met.”

These plans regulate when and how many shares company insiders, including directors and executives, are allowed to sell. The transactions are typically executed automatically, without the insiders taking any action.

Kim, the CFO, also made stock sales prior to the vaccine news. On May 15, just days before the results were announced, Kim sold 20,000 shares of stock worth $1.3 million.

Moderna’s stock has since retreated

Andrew Gordon, director of research services at Equilar, said there would only be a “legal issue if they created or modified their 10b5-1 plan while in possession of material insider information.”

“It’s not uncommon for insiders to sell shares they own, nor is it bad for them to capitalize on the current stock price,” Gordon said in an email.

Moderna’s share price fell 10% to $71.67 on Tuesday after health website STAT reported that vaccine experts concluded the company did not release enough information to know how significant the Phase 1 findings are.

By Thursday, Moderna finished at $67.05, down 16% from its Monday close.

“It’ll look bad from a PR perspective if Moderna’s stock price starts to fall dramatically after all this trading,” Gordon said.

Moderna shares did rebound 2% to $68.60 on Friday after Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, cheered the vaccine trial findings.

“Although the numbers were limited, it was quite good news because it reached and went over an important hurdle in the development of vaccines,” Fauci said during a CNN town hall. That’s the reason why I’m cautiously optimistic about it.”

‘Optics are terrible’

Moderna is one of the early frontrunners to develop a vaccine for Covid-19, which has killed more than 90,000 Americans. The biotech company’s vaccine produces neutralizing antibodies that bind to the virus and disable it from attacking human cells.

Moderna said its trial vaccinated dozens of participants and measured antibodies in eight of them. All eight developed neutralizing antibodies to the virus at levels reaching or exceeding the levels seen in people who have naturally recovered from Covid-19, the company said.

If future studies go well, Moderna has said its vaccine could be available to the public as early as January.

Charles Elson, a corporate governance expert at the University of Delaware, said the Moderna stock sales underscore why he has always believed executives should not sell stock while they are at the company.

“Even if it can be done legally, the optics are terrible because it shows you have a better place to put your money,” said Elson. “It shows a lack of confidence in your company going forward.”

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COVID-19 spending boosts taxpayers’ share of federal deficit to $77K each

April traditionally is the month when the U.S. Treasury collects the most revenue during the year because federal income taxes are due annually April 15.

With the COVID-19 emergency pushing that deadline to July 15 this year and Congress authorizing more than $3 trillion in assistance packages, the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) monthly budget review shows the federal government incurred a deficit of $737 billion in April compared with a surplus of $160 billion in April 2019.

Florida Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott said the increased spending is building a “mountain of debt” that amounts to, so far, $77,000 per person.

“We have tripled the previous record for the largest single-month deficit. This is the second time in three months we have held a larger monthly deficit than we saw in the peak of the Great Recession,” Scott wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to CBO Director Phillip Swagel.

Scott is an outspoken opponent of the proposed $3 trillion relief package approved by the House on May 15, calling it a “blue state bailout” that rewards Democratic-run states such as New York, Illinois and California for years of fiscal mismanagement.

The GOP-controlled Senate has not taken up the proposed package, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called a “totally unserious effort.”

CBO’s report said the federal deficit was about $1.5 trillion over the first seven months of fiscal year 2020, which began in October 2019. That’s $949 billion more than the deficit recorded during the same period last year, according to CBO.

Meanwhile, “revenues were 10 percent lower and outlays were 29 percent higher through April of this year than during the same seven-month period in fiscal year 2019,” the report said, noting “several major factors have sharply reduced receipts: administrative actions (including delayed tax-filing deadlines), declines in wages and other economic activity, and recently enacted legislation.”

CBO projects without changes in tax laws or “significant additional emergency funding,” the federal deficit “would be roughly $3.7 trillion in fiscal year 2020 and $2.1 trillion next year,” according to its preliminary estimates.

Scott said CBO’s projected federal budget deficit “will be the largest in the history of our nation, in excess of the cumulative deficits for the first 200 years of our country’s existence. We will end the year with an excess of $25 trillion in federal debt.

“In the first six months of this fiscal year, we have already created a $1.48 trillion deficit,” Scott wrote.

CBO’s “estimated changes” in revenues this April compared to last include:

• Individual income and payroll taxes combined decreased by $258 billion (or 55 percent);

• Corporate income taxes fell by $41 billion (or 92 percent), “largely because of the delay in the tax-filing deadline for corporations.”

Scott predicted a significant portion of deferred taxes never will be paid.

Scott, a former two-term Florida governor, wants CBO to answer the following questions:

• How much of the revenue lost because of tax deferrals does CBO anticipate will be collected, and when?

• Assuming no additional policy changes, how large does CBO anticipate the deficit will grow by the end of the fiscal year?

• What provisions enacted into law as a response to the coronavirus are having the largest negative effect on the nation’s deficit?

“All levels of government must start making hard choices to put our nation on a path to recovery – recovery from this virus and from the economic devastation it has caused,” Scott concluded.

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Coronavirus: Is it safe to visit US national parks?

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

A famous geyser at Yellowstone

National parks are re-opening across the US, and people are overjoyed. After weeks of staying at home, they are desperate to go outdoors. But is it safe?

Judah Brass, 19, has been hunkered down in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his parents and brothers and sisters for weeks. But a few days ago, they went for a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains in a park near their house.

“Standing in the breeze, I was just so thankful,” he says, describing what it was like to see spring flowers and hear the croaking of frogs. “It was freeing.”

He was one of the first to visit the Great Smoky Mountains park after it had re-opened.

The park, along with Yellowstone National Park and many of the other national parks, had been shut because of the pandemic. Park officials were concerned about the virus, and they closed off access to many of the national parks in March.

The parks are the country’s treasures, showcasing beauty that ranges from the Florida Everglades to California’s giant sequoias. With such impressive offerings, the parks attract crowds – last year, more than 4m people visited Yellowstone alone. But the Great Smoky Mountains, which has also reopened, is the busiest – a million visitors each month.

It means people who have been cooped up for weeks can now head for the parks and enjoy the outdoors.

Image copyright
Judah Brass

Image caption

Judah Brass, studying at home in Knoxville, and at Little Pigeon River, Tennessee

The president celebrated the opening of the parks in a speech last month, saying that it showed the US had made progress in its effort to fight the virus.

“People are going to be very happy,” he said.

He’s right – hikers and others are thrilled at the prospect of returning to the great outdoors.

They know that spending time outdoors is good for one’s mental, emotional and physical well-being. Science also shows that it helps people at work and allows them to find new ways to solve problems.

Shelley Carson, a psychology professor at Harvard University, explains: “Being surrounded by natural beauty helps our ability to be creative.”

But still hikers and nature lovers, even the most avid among them, are concerned about risks. They are worried about crowds at the park. They wonder if social-distancing guidelines will be followed, and they are not sure if it is safe to be in a place with so many people.

Jon Waterman, a former park ranger and the author of a book entitled Atlas of the National Parks, clearly loves the parks. Still he thinks that this may not be the best time to visit them.

“It will be difficult if not impossible to enforce social distancing rules,” he says. “Anyone thinking they can safely visit Yellowstone is not thinking clearly. Those crowded national parks are simply not going to be safe.”

The re-opening of the parks comes at a key moment for the nation and its fight against the pandemic. Nearly 100,000 people have died of the virus, and the health guidelines for preventing infection remain in place – people are told to wash their hands frequently, practise social distancing and wear masks in public.

Still the country is now opening up. State officials across the US have modified their stay-at-home orders, allowing people to venture out and resume some of their activities. For many, that means a visit to the park.

Officials have tried to minimise the danger. They are opening the parks in phases in order to limit the number of people who will visit at the same time. And visitor centres are locked.

A spokeswoman for the National Park Service told the BBC people should follow the White House health guidelines when they visit all of the parks and should keep their distance from others: “Give others plenty of room whether you are on a trail, at a boat launch or in a parking lot.”

People have been rushing to the parks, though, making it hard to avoid the crowds.

In some parts of the Great Smoky Mountains park, it was packed, says Anna Zanetti, a director of a non-profit organisation called Friends of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They showed up in droves after it re-opened, and she says that led to “overcrowding”.

Image copyright
Anna Zanetti

Image caption

Anna Zanetti with Mr Pickles at DuPont State Forest in N Carolina

Meanwhile visitors to the other parks have flaunting the health guidelines. This week at Yellowstone, reports the Guardian, people were not wearing masks.

Not all of the visitors to the parks have been cavalier.

Before Judah Brass and other members of his family headed out to the Great Smoky Mountains, they packed masks and hand sanitiser “just in case”, he says. They visited during the week, and the place was not crowded.

Public health experts believe the benefits of opening up the national parks outweigh the risks, so long as visitors take precautions in the way the Brass family did.

Bring masks and hand sanitiser, says Joseph Allen of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. If you are near others, you should wear your mask, he says, even when you are in a forest. (If you find yourself separate from others on a wooded path, he says “it’s OK to put your mask down”.)

For Judah Brass, the benefits are clear so the precautions are worth the effort.

“This big, beautiful view,” he says, recalling what he saw, “and the field in front of the mountains. It was just gorgeous.”

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Joe Biden says voters “ain’t black” if they support Trump

During a Friday interview on The Breakfast Club radio show, former Vice President Joe Biden made a controversial comment in an attempt to highlight his strength with black voters. “Well, I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black,” Biden said as he signed off from a conversation with show host, Charlamagne tha God.

“It don’t have nothing to do with Trump, it has to do with the fact — I want something for my community,” Charlamagne responded.

Biden’s comment followed a wide-ranging interview, during which Charlamagne pressed him on everything from his implementation of the 1994 crime bill to his decision on a running mate.

His remark featured the presumptive Democratic nominee, a 77-year-old white man, attempting to determine blackness, and it prompted swift blowback on social media. Some prominent activists and writers of color questioned why Biden was effectively taking support from black voters for granted, and trying to judge who was black.

Symone Sanders, a senior adviser for Biden’s campaign, later noted that Biden had made these statements “in jest” and reiterated that he was pointing out how his record compared to Trump’s. Biden, himself, also apologized for the remarks during a call with black business leaders on Friday afternoon, according to CBS News correspondent Ed O’Keefe.

“I should not have been so cavalier. I’ve never, never, ever taken the African American community for granted,” he said. “No one should have to vote for any party based on their race, their religion, their background.”

It’s unclear whether the exchange will have an enduring impact on the November election. But the interview highlighted how Biden has relied on support from black voters, without always thinking through what could alienate them. A concern over Biden’s comments centers on whether he can energize voters to go to the polls — and give them a reason to do so beyond opposition to the president.

Biden’s success in the primary was powered heavily by black voters

As part of Friday’s interview, Biden noted repeatedly that black voters were central to his success during the Democratic primary. “I told you, when I got to South Carolina, I won every single county. I won a larger share of the black vote than anybody has, including Barack,” he said.

In several key primary states, including South Carolina, Biden won overwhelmingly with black voters compared to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), though this support was stratified by age.

In the pivotal primary state of South Carolina, for example, Biden won 61 percent of black voters overall while Sanders won 17 percent. But across age groups, older black voters were more likely to support Biden than younger ones. For example, 38 percent of black voters under 30 backed Sanders, while 36 percent backed Biden.

Since he’s become the presumptive nominee, a recurring concern that’s been raised about Biden’s candidacy is whether he’ll be able energize a broader base of voters — including those who’ve been less enthused about him. Younger voters of color were among those who raised concerns about his comments Friday and are squarely in the group he needs to effectively reach.

Democrats, after all, will need higher turnout to win in this cycle, and black voters, whose turnout rates dipped from the 2012 election to 2016, are one of the key voting groups they have to connect with.

Biden’s statements on Friday indicated that he and his campaign are still wrestling with this issue.


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Biden: Black voters considering Trump ‘ain’t black’

Image copyright
Getty Images

Democratic White House candidate Joe Biden has said in an interview African Americans “ain’t black” if they vote for President Donald Trump over him.

The controversial exchange happened as radio host Charlamagne Tha God pressed the former vice-president on Friday about his outreach to black voters.

When an aide for Mr Biden tried to end the interview, Charlamagne said: “You can’t do that to black media.”

Loyal support from black voters has been vital to Mr Biden’s candidacy.

What exactly did Biden say?

Throughout the 18-minute interview, Mr Biden, 77, stressed his longstanding ties to the black community, noting his overwhelming win this year in South Carolina’s presidential primary, a state where the Democratic electorate is more than 60% African American.

“I won every single county. I won the largest share of the black vote that anybody had, including Barack,” he said of President Barack Obama, the country’s first African-American president, who picked Mr Biden as his running mate.

Mr Biden also “guaranteed” that several black women were being considered to serve as his vice-president. The presumptive nominee has already committed to selecting a woman to join him on the Democratic ticket.

Toward the end of the interview, a campaign aide interrupted to say the former vice-president was out of time.

“I do that to white media and black media,” Mr Biden replied when Charlamagne protested.

“My wife has to go on at 6 o’clock,” he said, apparently referring to Jill Biden needing to use their at-home broadcast studio.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionThe biggest myth about the ‘black vote’

Charlamagne urged Mr Biden to return for an additional interview, saying he had more questions.

“If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black,” Mr Biden responded.

Charlamagne said: “It don’t have nothing to do with Trump. It has to do with the fact that I want something for my community.”

“Take a look at my record, man!” Biden said, throwing his hands in the air, seconds before concluding the interview.

Image copyright
YouTube/The Breakfast Club

Image caption

Radio host Charlamagne Tha God pressed Vice-President Biden on his support for black voters

Biden trips an electrical live wire

Joe Biden just touched a live electrical wire of racial identity in US politics.

Until now his support among black voters has been rock-solid, and there’s little chance Friday’s line will do much by itself to dent that. The Trump campaign will be happy, however, if they can chip away even a sliver of Mr Biden’s support, particularly in key electoral states like Wisconsin and Michigan, where black voter apathy hurt Democrats in 2016.

Mr Biden’s gaffe came at the end of an interview, as he was being pressed on whether he favoured Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar over a black woman as his running mate. That he responded with indignation – and then veered dangerously off-script – suggests his preference might lie with someone like Ms Klobuchar, who shares Mr Biden’s pragmatic political sensibilities.

If Friday’s kerfuffle has staying power, however, he might feel compelled to pick a black female candidate like Kamala Harris or Stacey Abrams – if only to clean up the mess he created.

How is the Biden camp trying to contain the damage?

Biden campaign adviser Symone Sanders defended the comments on Friday, saying they were made “in jest”.

“Let’s be clear about what the VP was saying: he was making the distinction that he would put his record with the African American community up against Trump’s any day. Period.”

Mr Biden endeavoured to make amends on a call later to black business leaders.

“I should not have been so cavalier,” he said. “I’ve never, never, ever taken the African American community for granted.”

He added: “I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy.”

He continued: “No-one should have to vote for any party based on their race, their religion, their background.”

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Reuters

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Mr Biden’s resounding win among black voters in South Carolina healed seal his status as presumptive nominee

What’s the reaction?

The Trump campaign seized on the remarks, calling the exchange “disgusting”.

“That is the most arrogant, condescending comment I’ve heard in a very long time,” said Senator Tim Scott, a black Republican, on Fox News.

“He’s saying that 1.3 million African Americans, that you’re not black? Who in the heck does he think he is?” the South Carolina lawmaker said, referring to the black Americans who voted for Mr Trump in 2016.

Mr Biden’s words also incited criticism from his side of the aisle.

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Getty Images

Image caption

Mr Biden often references his record as Barack Obama’s running mate.

Keith Boykin, a professor at Columbia and former aide to Democratic President Bill Clinton, called Mr Biden’s comments “a mistake”.

“Yes, Biden is a much better choice for black people than racist Trump,” Mr Boykin wrote on Twitter.

“But white people don’t get to tell black people what is black. Biden still has to EARN our vote.”

Why is Biden popular among black voters?

Mr Biden’s long political career has been bolstered by enduring support from African Americans, fortified by the eight years he spent serving alongside Mr Obama – who remains hugely popular out of office.

A Quinnipiac University poll released this week showed Mr Biden’s support among black voters at a stunning 81%, compared with 3% for Mr Trump. The remainder said they didn’t know.

Mr Obama endorsed his former vice-president last month, saying in a video that Mr Biden “has all the qualities we need in a president right now”.

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Judge Napolitano: Trump has no authority to override church bans, but can do this

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Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano said Friday that President Trump does not have the authority he says he does when it comes to overriding governors who will not allow churches or synagogues to reopen.

However, Napolitano told “The Daily Briefing” that the governors’ bans are “ill-advised” and that the president does have one major recourse should a state executive fail to listen to his orders.

“In a word, no,” he said of Trump’s authority on the matter.

“As ill-advised as these gubernatorial orders are — as essential as is the right to worship, as fundamental as it is — as absolutely protected by the First Amendment as it is, the president does not have any authority to override the governors,” he said.

TRUMP DECREES HOUSES OF WORSHIP ‘ESSENTIAL’, CALLS ON GOVERNORS TO OPEN THEM UP

Instead, Napolitano said Trump can order Attorney General William Barr and the Justice Department to file federal lawsuits against states that infringe on the First Amendment rights of their citizens.

Federal judges, thereby, are the ones with the legal power to override governors’ orders.

“The president on his own, no matter [how] well-intended he may be and I believe he’s well-intended here, is without authority to do that.”

Napolitano added that in his home state of New Jersey, he has been anxious for a similar lawsuit to be filed against Democratic Gov. Philip Murphy, who has to-date considered places of worship “non-essential,” even as liquor stores and other facilities remain open.

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In the early days of the Garden State lockdown, New Jersey authorities notably raided religious services in the city of Lakewood, home to a large Jewish population. The state government was lambasted for their actions at the time.

“Here [in New Jersey], the doors are locked and you cannot go in for private prayer on your own, much less an organized prayer service or a Catholic Mass,” Napolitano said. “Judges can interfere with governors when governors violate the state constitution or the federal constitution. But the president is without authority to exercise that interference on his own.”

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Exclusive: IG Fired Days After Inquiring About Pompeo’s ‘Donor Dinners’

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan Pompeo wave as they board their plane in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 18, 2019. They were in Kansas City Monday to speak at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. (Photo credit: JIM YOUNG/AFP via Getty Images)

While Democrats are investigating whether State Department Inspector General Steve Linick was fired for probing into last year’s expedited $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, The American Conservative has learned of another, more direct reason for the IG’s abrupt firing: just days before Linick was removed, he sent a request for information about the “donor dinners” otherwise known as “Madison Dinners” that Pompeo has been hosting on the taxpayer dime for corporate and media big wigs.

Before coronavirus cancelled them, the “Madison Dinners” were elaborate, unpublicized State dinners that Pompeo and his wife Susan hosted in Diplomatic Reception Rooms beginning in 2018. A bevy of big wig political donors, corporate CEOs, and conservative news media celebrities were invited to the dinners funded by taxpayers.

As to whether these dinners were Hatch Act violations, “it would fall into a legal gray area, but using taxpayer money to fund essentially a lavish donor dinner made people in the Office for Protocol feel very uncomfortable,” a former senior State Department official told TAC.

The Office of Protocol exists to host State dinners and events for heads of state, monarchs, diplomats and U.S. officials in order to advance the work of diplomacy.

It’s hard to argue that State Department business is taking place when the attendees are almost all American CEOs and media figures, a source told TAC.

The master list obtained by NBC includes the names of nearly 500 invitees and specifies who accepted, although it is possible some people responded but didn’t show.

The invitees are “a who’s who list of big donors, as well as media that he wants to look good in front of,” a former high-level State Department employee that has knowledge of the lists told TAC.

“Pompeo would invite one ambassador from some country or other so that way the dinner would technically qualify as a State function,” said the source.

“This is all with an eye to the presidential election in 2024,” another State Department source told TAC, noting that a 2024 presidential run would put Pompeo at odds with Vice President Mike Pence.

And rather than foreign policy experts or experienced diplomats, Pompeo has placed Silicon Valley titans and donors on the State Department’s Foreign Policy Advisory Board. According to a 2019 fiscal year report for the board provided to TAC by the State Department, the panel has recently included nine members. Among them: Douglas Beck from Apple, Jared Cohen from Jigsaw (Alphabet Inc.), James Donovan from Goldman Sachs, and William Roedy, former CEO of MTV.

In his first public comments on the firing, Pompeo claimed he was not aware that Linick was investigating him at the time he recommended that the IG be removed. He said he knew only about a case “involving a national security matter,” reports the Post.

“It is not possible that this decision, or my recommendation rather, to the President rather, was based on any effort to retaliate for any investigation that was going on, or is currently going on,” Pompeo said. “Because I simply don’t know. I’m not briefed on it. I usually see these investigations in final draft form 24 hours, 48 hours before the IG is prepared to release them.”

“So it’s simply not possible for this to be an act of retaliation. End of story,” Pompeo said.

But sources tell a different story. A former State Department employee told TAC that as soon as the Office of Protocol was notified of the IG’s request, they immediately notified Pompeo’s office. Three days later, Linick was out.

The dinners aren’t the only irregularities that the Inspector General of the State Department was probing, however.

According to a Democratic congressional aide, the IG was investigating last year’s decision to bypass Congress by declaring an emergency that expedited an $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to sit for an interview with the IG office on the issue, reports CNN.

“Democratic lawmakers on a House committee last year began looking at a whistle-blower complaint that Mr. Pompeo, his wife and adult son were asking diplomatic security agents to run personal errands, including picking up Chinese food and the family dog from a groomer. The whistle-blower said agents had complained they were ‘UberEats with guns,’ according to CNN, which first reported on the accusations,” reports The New York Times.

Susan Pompeo holds a very active role within the State Department, where she has her own political appointee staffer.

That is very unusual, because very few Trump administration officials have managed to secure one. For example. Richard Grennell, the Director of National Intelligence, had to fight for a year and a half to get one.

Susan Pompeo also accompanies her husband on several long, taxpayer-funded trips overseas.

“In January 2019, she went with him on an eight-day journey across the Middle East—which raised questions among some officials because most State Department employees, including those supporting the trip, were working without pay during a partial government shutdown,” reports The New York Times. “Mrs. Pompeo has also flown with her husband on multi-night trips to Switzerland and Italy, which included a visit to the secretary’s ancestral home region of Abruzzo.”

While she is not paid by the State Department, she has met with embassy families and local figures on some of these trips, and Pompeo calls her a “force multiplier.

Still, it is unlikely that the investigations of Susan Pompeo and the Saudi arms deal led to the IG’s abrupt ousting, because the Saudi arms deal investigation began a year ago, and would have been approved by several high-level Pentagon attorneys and Trump’s National Security Council.

Unlike the Saudi arms deal, however, the donor dinners have only recently come to light, and could be a huge political embarrassment to Pompeo, who has so far stayed within the good graces of both President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

The Office of Protocol and the State Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus to NBC, however, that the “Madison Dinners”  are “a world-class opportunity to discuss the mission of the State Department and the complex foreign policy matters facing our exceptional nation,” and that invited guests included “many foreign diplomats, thought leaders, academics, government leaders at many levels, business leaders, Members of Congress and the media —each of whom has a stake in America and its leadership in the world.”