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Sessions claps back at Trump: ‘You’re damn fortunate’ I recused from Russia probe

“3 years ago, after Jeff Sessions recused himself, the Fraudulent Mueller Scam began,” Trump tweeted. “He let our Country down. That’s why I endorsed Coach Tommy Tuberville (@TTuberville), the true supporter of our #MAGA agenda!”

Sessions followed up on Saturday morning, saying Trump’s thoughts won’t sway Alabama voters’ minds. Sessions also called Tuberville a “coward who is too afraid” to debate and who is embracing policy positions at odds with Trump’s agenda.

“Mr. President, Alabama can and does trust me, as do conservatives across the country,” Sessions said. “Perhaps you’ve forgotten. They trusted me when I stepped out and put that trust on the line for you.”

The tweet war between the onetime allies continued Saturday evening when Trump suggested Sessions should “drop out of the race” with Tuberville.

“Jeff, you had your chance & you blew it,” Trump wrote of Sessions’ time as attorney general. “Recused yourself ON DAY ONE (you never told me of a problem), and ran for the hills. You had no courage, & ruined many lives.”

Sessions’ recusal has long angered Trump, who has accused his former attorney general of disloyalty.

The president has repeatedly attacked Sessions on Twitter and during media interviews despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby urging him not to, according to a CNN report.

The president’s ongoing attacks, even after Sessions left the DOJ in 2018, prompted Sessions to release a statement earlier this month explaining his recusal.

“To not recuse myself from that investigation, of which I was a target as a senior campaign official and a witness, would have been breaking the law. I do not and will not break the law,” Sessions wrote. “I did the right thing for the country and for President Trump. If I, as a target of the investigation, had broken the law by not recusing myself, it would have been a catastrophe for the rule of law and for the President.”

Trump also tweeted support for a slew of Republican congressional candidates, including former White House doctor Ronny Jackson and former Rep. Karen Handel, who lost her suburban Atlanta seat to current Rep. Lucy McBath in 2018.

Sessions faces Tuberville in a July 14 runoff. A poll conducted by Cygnal shows Tuberville leading Sessions by more than 20 percentage points.

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Huawei VP Responds to Reports Britain Plans to Reduce Company’s Role in 5G Network: It ‘Don’t Make Sense’

Huawei Vice President Victor Zhang expressed confusion on Saturday over emerging reports that reveal Britain’s plans to limit the company’s domestic influence in the U.K.’s 5G networks.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reportedly ordered U.K. officials to draft up plans to reduce Huawei’s presence in the country’s 5G networks, amid growing backlash from conservative politicians against China over their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The move “simply don’t make sense,” Zhang said in a statement. “As a private company, 100% owned by employees, which has operated in the U.K. for 20 years, our priority has been to help mobile and broadband companies keep Britain connected, which in this current health crisis has been more vital than ever. This is our proven track-record.”

Johnson’s plans to limit the Chinese tech giant’s influence in Britain’s 5G network to zero by the year 2023 was reported by The Guardian and Telegraph on Saturday local time.

A Huawei’s logo is seen during the inauguration of the Huawei Flag Ship Barcelona at Plaça Catalunya on February 22, 2020 in Barcelona, Spain.
Miquel Benitez/Getty

The move signifies a withdrawal from Johnson’ previous position. In January, the British leader announced that he would permit Huawei to build up to 35 percent of the country’s 5G network. It also comes as Johnson prepares to attend this year’s G7 summit in America next month.

Conservative politicians in Britain’s parliament have condemned Beijing’s handling of COVID-19—partly blaming the country’s lack of transparency surrounding its early response for the worldwide outbreak—and have called for limits to be placed on Chinese investments.

Seeking to end Britain’s dependence on China-made essential coronavirus equipment, senior U.K. ministers recently introduced “Project Defend,” which intends to boost domestic sufficiency in developing medicines and technologies.

Johnson, who has served as leader of the Conservative Party since 2019, is also expected to engage the U.S. in further trade negotiations soon. American politicians have been publicly critical of Britain’s initial decision to allow Huawei into their markets and have asserted that the move could put the nation’s security at risk.

When Johnson—with the support of intelligence officials—allowed Huawei into their 5G networks in January, he maintained at the time that the security risks associated with using the company’s equipment could be subdued. It appears now he has changed his mind.

Tensions between Beijing and London have risen even further in recent days after the mainland threatened Hong Kong with a new security law that would ban treason, sedition and secession in the semi-autonomous region.

10 Downing Street declined Newsweek‘s request for comment. A Huawei representative was also contacted about this story, which will be updated with any response.

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Inside the Latest Plan to “Bankrupt” and Privatize Social Security

As tens of millions of Americans face long-term unemployment, instead of advocating for policies that would help those feeling the greatest impact of the crisis, Donald Trump is now pushing for a payroll tax holiday to fully eliminate the 7.6 percent tax.

The payroll tax, split evenly between workers and employers, is hardly a progressive way to fund a welfare state — but Trump’s plan would set up an obvious and destructive policy trap that Democrats would be fools to fall into.

Nearly forty million people have lost their jobs, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates that unemployment will remain above 9 percent through next year. Because a payroll tax cut only impacts those still receiving a paycheck, the jobless would be completely left out. Enacting a stimulus program that provides them with no benefit is simply an act of malice against low-wage workers who have been most impacted by this crisis.

Furthermore, higher-income families would receive outsized benefits from a payroll tax cut when compared with those at the bottom of the spectrum who are most likely in financial distress. For example, a married couple earning more than $275,400 (the cap on Social Security taxes) who remained employed during this crisis would receive a tax break of $21,068 over the next year. A lower-income couple, in which one spouse was laid off and the other was earning $20,000 per year, would receive a tax break of just $1,530, less than $30 a week, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The motivation behind a payroll tax holiday is not to help families through this crisis. Instead, it is nihilistic political gamesmanship.

A cut in the payroll tax directly reduces funding for Social Security and Medicare. This stems from the dysfunctional way we fund our welfare state. Instead of using money from general revenue, Social Security and Medicare are funded through their own revenue streams that do not need to be appropriated every year by Congress.

Franklin Roosevelt was very clear that the reason Social Security was created with a dedicated payroll tax impacting all workers was to defend the program against attempts to destroy it. “We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits,” he said in 1941. “With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.”

By law, unlike the rest of government, Social Security can never go into debt. It collects taxes and places any yearly surplus in its trust fund which purchases government bonds. If Social Security needs more revenue than it has taken in during the year, it can draw from its previously accrued surplus. If that surplus dries up, it would require congressional action to cut benefits, raise taxes, or issue debt.

Republicans have been trying to provoke this crisis for a generation. A payroll tax holiday would shift the actuarial tables and create the perception that Social Security was going “bankrupt.” They would then use this as the excuse to cut Social Security or enact a privatization scheme, a favorite second-term hobbyhorse for Republican presidents.  After denying it during the 2004 election, it was one of the first policies George W. Bush tried to get through Congress when Republicans controlled both the House and Senate in 2005.

Bad economic and harmful policies are par for the course from this White House, but in this case there is a risk Democrats accept this Trojan horse, especially considering Nancy Pelosi has stated there will be “no red lines” for Democrats when negotiating with Mitch McConnell and Trump over the next coronavirus relief package.

Why would Democrats, when they control a branch of government, enact such a scheme? Because they have before. In fact, they did in December 2010, during the lame-duck session where they still held control over both chambers of Congress and the White House. Republicans blocked the extension of Barack Obama’s Making Work Pay tax credit. Desperate to keep providing economic stimulus Democrats were keen to make a deal. The ultimate compromise was a 2 percent payroll tax holiday through 2011. This was then extended through the end of 2012.

At the time Nancy Altman, who was appointed to the Social Security Advisory Board by Pelosi wrote, “Today’s Democrats fail to understand the program, and so are not only blind to subtle assaults against it, but seem to conspire in those assaults.”

Donald Trump’s cut is far deeper, and with Republicans in control of the Senate the risk is far greater.

Once this “tax holiday” is in place, it’s an easy bet that Republicans will fight to extend it. After years of party leaders and various members of Congress pledging over and over again not to raise taxes on the middle class, Democrats will have put themselves into a bind. You can bet the GOP will use every legislative maneuver they have to force a vote on this extension. They will then run ad after ad claiming Democratic members of Congress who voted against it sought to raise taxes on the middle class.

Donald Trump already told a group of Republican senators that he would like to make the payroll tax cut permanent.

There is a simple way to confront this problem. Instead of taking the money out of the Social Security system and limiting those who can receive it to the currently employed, direct cash payments should be the Democratic red line. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Ed Markey have introduced a bill in the Senate that would provide $2,000 per month until the end of the economic crisis. Tim Ryan and Ro Khanna have introduced a similar bill in the House. Not only would this protect funding for Social Security and Medicare, but it would also provide a real financial backstop during this crisis.

Any Democrats supporting a payroll tax cut are not just trying to help their constituents during a crisis — they’re risking the future of Social Security and Medicare.

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Coronavirus lockdown sparks a surprising backlash against otters in Singapore, the ‘Otter City’

Life was already hardscrabble for the seven river otters known as the Zouk family.

Prime land next to Singapore’s sparkling waterways brimming with fish had been seized by other clans, forcing the hapless group to wander the city-state each day in search of food and shelter. But few noticed their forays until a coronavirus shutdown known as the circuit breaker was imposed in April.

With the streets nearly emptied, the Zouks — named after a local nightclub — started appearing in unexpected places: splashing around in a luxury condominium pool, taking a break outside a usually teeming shopping center in Little India and trying to cut through the lobby of a children’s hospital.

It all seemed rather harmless. But calls for a crackdown on the otter population began when the Zouks raided a private pond stocked with expensive ornamental fish on the grounds of a spa owned by a former actress.

“The otters killed all the fishes in the pond,” Jazreel Low wrote in a Facebook post punctuated by a sad face emoji and what looks like a surveillance camera image of four otters skipping through her temporarily shuttered business. Low later posted a picture of her 13-year-old arowana, Ah Huat — meaning “to prosper” — in better times.

“Darn otters! They gotta pay for it!” wrote one sympathetic commenter.

Within days, there were calls on social media and a radio program to cull the slippery animals. A widely shared letter published in the local Straits Times recommended deterring otters with air horns and rubber bullets.

“Wild boars have never been encouraged to enter urban areas, neither should otters be just because they look cute,” wrote Ong Junkai, an aquaculture products salesman.

It was a harsh response, one that otter lovers reasoned was amplified by the desire to discuss (or complain) about anything other than the coronavirus. It was also unanticipated. Singapore seemed a city captivated by the cuddly creatures — a model of coexistence with urban wildlife.

Water streams from the Merlion, Singapore’s mythical mascot, in a park near the central business district.

(Millie Ball)

Ever since 2014, when they started appearing in Marina Bay — the waterfront famed for its Merlion and Marina Bay Sands hotel — the otters have been treated like celebrities in a metropolis otherwise known as the Lion City.

When asked to vote for a mascot to represent Singapore during its 2016 National Day festivities, citizens overwhelmingly chose the otters.

The animals have been given the David Attenborough documentary treatment and have spawned a number of fan pages, including the closely followed Ottercity, a nerve center for the bands of local enthusiasts who track the animal’s movements.

When the patriarch of a beloved family of otters known as the Bishan 10 died in 2018, mourners drew anthropomorphic lessons from the life he led.

“The Bishan dad was able to keep the family together. When he passed away, there was a lot of reflection among otter watchers about our own lives and our own accomplishments,” said Sivasothi N., a biologist at the National University of Singapore, better known as the Otterman because of his expertise with the animals.

Something about the otters’ lifestyle provokes envy among Singapore’s high-achieving and high-strung society.

“They are exactly who we want to be,” said Jeffrey Teo, Asia Pacific managing director of a French financial services firm and the founder of Ottercity. “They spend time with family. They like to swim, eat good food and do a little sunbathing.”

The fact the otters are even found here, in one of the densest cities in the world, provokes astonishment. Most species of the semiaquatic animal live solitary lives.

But Singapore’s prevalent otter, the smooth-coated variety, is unusually social. They swim by row boats, roll in the grass next to tourists and take dips in reservoirs, whose banks double as jogging paths.

The dramatic Singapore city skyline at sunset

The dramatic Singapore city skyline at sunset, with the striking Marina Bay Sands Hotel to the left, three towers with a Skypark atop them.

(MasterLu / Getty Images)

“We have the best otter-watching conditions in the world, no question about it,” said Philip Johns, a biologist at Yale-NUS College, who was so taken by the animals when he arrived in Singapore from the U.S. in 2015 that he abandoned notions of studying colugos, a gliding nocturnal mammal that looks like a cross between a bat and a lemur.

“Evolutionarily speaking, colugos are fascinating,” Johns said. “But they mostly sit in trees and do nothing. Otters are like wolves. They’re like coyotes in water.”

Once thought extinct here, like the Malayan tiger, the otters began reappearing in the 1990s in less urbanized corners before capturing everyone’s attention in Marina Bay.

Their return is due in part to a massive clean-up of Singapore’s rivers that began in the 1970s. Dredging of the river bottom muck turned up dead pigs, dogs and chickens. You could smell some rivers before you saw them. But the restored waters brought back an otter banquet: tilapia, catfish and all manner of exotic species, such as the yellow-hued Orinoco peacock bass.

It’s more than dining, though, that makes Singapore optimal for otters. The diamond-shaped island — roughly the size of the San Fernando Valley — is etched with a network of drains and canals that form a “subway system for the otters to move around really, really quickly,” Johns said.

Mobility is paramount. Otters are fiercely territorial. And now that Singapore’s otter population has grown to about 90 animals belonging to 10 families, clashes for choice river banks and fishing waters have grown too.

At first, Singaporeans were horrified that the furry critters were capable of such ferocious fighting. Some tried to break up squabbles with umbrellas.

Battles often begin with a cacophony of squeals that can escalate into fits of biting. Pups are the only casualties, often drowned and found floating. About 10 otters died in Singapore last year from a combination of fighting and vehicle collisions.

The Zouks were first driven from a part of the Singapore River. They ended up in the Botanic Garden but its shallow ponds didn’t provide enough fish to raise a family. That’s when the Zouks hit the road.

Their spa jaunt this month wasn’t the first time otters had made headlines for munching on pets. In 2016, local media reported otters ate tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of exotic fish from private ponds on exclusive Sentosa Island.

Otter experts suggest building more constrictive fencing and opting for smaller pet fish, which aren’t worth the otters’ attention. Having a security guard on hand couldn’t hurt either.

That doesn’t satisfy critics like Ong, the author of the letter to the Straits Times, who is convinced more Singaporeans would demand stricter management of the urbanized otters if they weren’t scared of a backlash.

“Talking about controlling them in any way is bound to draw negative comments based on emotional response,” said Ong, 38, who has an educational background in biology and biomedical science. He cited an incident in 2017 when an otter bit a 5-year-old girl’s foot at Gardens by the Bay.

“They have been pampered too much,” Ong said.

The official mantra in Singapore is to watch the animals from a distance. Otters don’t react unless they feel threatened.

An official at the National Parks Board said mitigation efforts, such as erecting barriers, were working.

“Most problems are easily solved,” said Adrian Loo, who heads wildlife management for the agency.

Otter watchers such as Teo think the backlash has been overblown. Social media, he said, is showing more sympathy for the animals. About 90% of Singaporeans live in public housing, not the multimillion-dollar detached homes that can support fish ponds.

“It’s just a few loud voices that keep complaining,” Teo said. “Mr. and Mrs. Know-It-All Singapore.”

With the coronavirus lockdown likely stretching into July, Teo and his cohorts are finding it difficult to keep track of the otters.

The last time the Zouk family was spotted was earlier this week, back in the Botanic Garden.

“These guys are survivors, they’re explorers. It’s a totally new level of inspiration,” said Teo, 49, who ordinarily begins each day photographing otters at 6:30 a.m. before heading to work.

“Sadly, I don’t think there’s any upside for them,” he added. “They’re just going to keep running around and crossing streets. When the circuit breaker eases up, cars are going to return to the road. I’ve seen too many accidents.”

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U.S. nears 100,000 coronavirus-related deaths; Trump at golf course

As the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. nears 100,000 — more than double the number of reported deaths as any other nation in the world — President Trump kicked off the Memorial Day weekend by visiting one of his private golf courses in northern Virginia.

Videos on social media showed the president’s motorcade arriving at the Trump National Golf Club on Saturday morning, marking the first time Trump would be playing golf since the devastating outbreak began in March.

Despite increasing caseloads in hot spots around the nation, Trump has urged state and local officials to ease stay-at-home orders in order to reopen their economies and public spaces. On Friday, he demanded that churches across the nation should be allowed to welcome worshipers back this weekend.

Meanwhile, Americans eager to head back outdoors faced a mixed bag of options for how to mark the holiday weekend, with all 50 states having at least partially reopened.

While most water parks and amusement parks remain closed, governors in South Carolina and Tennessee reopened the ones in their states in time for holiday crowds. Beaches were open in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware, but with strict social-distancing protocols.

At New York City beaches, such as Coney Island, swimming and contact sports such as volleyball, are still not allowed. In 16 state parks with beaches, group activities remain prohibited but swimming is allowed so long as people remain six feet from each other.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised early beachgoers for keeping their distance from one another.

“People were great,” Cuomo said Saturday. “They are doing what they are supposed to do, and we thank them.”

Across the U.S., those venturing outdoors are expected to follow a wide assortment of social distancing measures as governors continue to implement individual sets of regulations for what businesses and recreation areas can reopen.

For the first time since March, New Yorkers are able to host small dinner parties and barbecues after Cuomo signed an executive order late Friday allowing gatherings of up to 10 people as long as participants keep six feet apart and follow hygienic protocols.

Cuomo said Saturday that he didn’t believe the loosening of restrictions would affect the state’s infection rate nor its ability to continue slowly reopening local economies, so long as people follow proper social distancing measures.

“You can have a safe gathering of 10 people, you can also have a wholly unsafe gathering of 10 people,” Cuomo said.

Meanwhile, with the national death toll standing at more than 96,000 as of Saturday morning, the Trump administration has continued to pressure state and local governments to reopen.

The Justice Department on Friday issued warnings to officials in Los Angeles and Illinois to loosen “heavy-handed” stay-at-home orders.

“Reports of your recent public statements indicate that you suggested the possibility of long-term lock down of the residents in the city and county of Los Angeles, regardless of the legal justification for such restrictions,” Eric S. Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the department’s Civil Rights Division, wrote in a letter addressed to L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Yet the letter was made public on the same day that White House coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, speaking at a news conference hosted by Trump, singled out Los Angeles and Chicago as two of three regions where the persistent spread of the coronavirus remains a major concern.

Several states, including South Dakota, Arkansas and Maine, have seen a rise in coronavirus cases in recent days as testing has increased.

In Arkansas, the number of new cases jumped to 163 Friday, bringing the state’s total to 5,775. The largest rise in single-day new cases in the state since the outbreak began was reported Thursday, when 450 new cases were confirmed.

“During this Memorial Day weekend we want to be out and we want to enjoy ourselves, but let’s be safe and let’s be disciplined at the same time,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Saturday. “Increased cases indicates that there are more people out there who could potentially spread the virus.”

In Missouri, Idaho and elsewhere, the number of confirmed cases continues to drop.

And in hard-hit New York, the number of COVID-19 deaths within a 24-hour period Friday was 84, Cuomo said.

It was the first time since late March that the one-day death toll fell below 100.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Trump’s sales pitch: I’ve got a list for you

But it’s also a way the businessman-turned-politician tries to sell his administration’s work on any issue, touting big numbers or a large group of participants as proof of success. And Trump frequently frames the list — and its contents — in a selective manner, crafting the narrative he wants. Context is less important.

As the president has tried to convince the public of his success in responding to the coronavirus outbreak, Trump has similarly leaned on lists to try and defend his actions on testing, illustrate the support he has to reopen the economy and even display his dismay for governors and states he feels have gone too far with stay-at-home restrictions.

Just this past week, Trump reveled in a mental list he has been keeping of how many tests the U.S. has conducted, approaching 14 million, in comparison with other countries — Germany at 3 million, Italy at 3 million. That list, like so many others, is designed to ensure American is ranked No. 1. Trump deflected when a reporter asked how America’s testing compared to other countries on a per capita basis, a measure by which the U.S. lags behind several countries.

“You know, when you say ‘per capita,’ there’s many per capitas,” he said. “It’s like, per capita relative to what? But you can look at just about any category, and we’re really at the top, meaning positive on a per capita basis, too.”

Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington and author of “Presidential Communication and Character,” called Trump’s strategy “the political version of a real estate agent trying to say, look at the size of the bedrooms, look at the size of the yard, or the school district. The longer the list is, the more likely someone can find something or someone on that list to like.”

The president outlined his use of bravado in his book “The Art of the Deal,” writing, “people may not always think big themselves, but they still get excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.”

Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s former communications director, said the tic is emblematic of the president’s unique way of communicating.

“Somebody that’s a more established politician will have a power point or a teleprompter and they’ll try to say the words in perfect paragraphs and it’ll be by and large not that inflammatory — and he does the opposite,” Scaramucci said. “That freewheeling nature — there’s a lot of mistruths, a lot of shots fired that bounce around in the box — people take it for granted that he’s going to do that. If you’re an established politician you need to be more contrived.”

It’s also simply a way for the president to cast blame.

In his first press conference after the 2018 midterm election, when Republicans lost control of the House, Trump’s response to the setback was to tick through a list of Republican lawmakers who didn’t embrace him and lost.

Months later, when Trump held an impeachment acquittal ceremony at the White House, the president was ready with insults for a list of political foes like former FBI Director James Comey, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff.

Other times, it’s a tactic deployed to simply filibuster or flatter.

At that same impeachment acquittal celebration, Trump also ticked off a list of “a great group of warriors” that included over a dozen Republican allies.

“Jim Banks of Indiana. Jim. Andy Biggs, where is Andy?” Trump called out. ”Bradley Burn, Alabama. What a great place. … Devin Nunes. Unbelievable. … Lee Zeldin, how good are you? And Lou [Gohmert], your name isn’t down.”

At another White House ceremony, convened in January to ostensibly laud a phase-one trade deal with China, Trump diverted from his teleprompter remarks and instead rattled through a list of guests and lawmakers for over thirty minutes as Chinese officials stood quietly behind him.

“Mike Crapo, a friend of mine,” Trump riffed. “Chuck Grassley. Where’s Chuck? … Dan Sullivan, from the great state of Alaska. Drew Ferguson. What a friend. … Jim Morrison, of Jeep. What a great brand Jeep is.”

But often, it’s just a way Trump tries to indicate the support for his initiatives.

When Trump convened reporters in the Rose Garden in April to announce a coronavirus economic task force , the president simply read down a long list of companies and executives he claimed were involved, from Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase to National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The list ultimately sprawled to over 200 people, which the White House would form the “Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups.” The list included all types of companies: Lockheed Martin, ExxonMobil, Visa, Chick-fil-A, 3M, Marriott, Best Buy.

Trump, Farnsworth said, “has tried to change the subject from the healthcare crisis to the economic crisis where the future may be more optimistic.”

He added: “President Trump is a gambler and he changes his bets regularly so that he can be judged by different metrics day by day.”

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Black activists warn Biden: Don’t pick Klobuchar as VP

It’s not yet clear how much the opposition of activists matters to Biden. He’s made clear that the electoral politics of his pick matter less than choosing someone who can be a governing partner and step into the top job without worry.

But the vocal contingent of African American and Latino detractors — many of whom said they would prefer Biden to select a black woman as a running mate — is unique to Klobuchar; Elizabeth Warren, another top contender for VP, doesn’t elicit similar antagonism from communities of color.

“It comes from her performance in the primary — her weakness in being able to motivate them,” said Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPAC, who supports several potential vice presidential selections. “The engagement and the enthusiasm of black voters is going to be a difference-maker in this election, and the concerns about her in this role stem from the degree to which she resonated or not with those core constituencies.”

Earlier this week, Biden confirmed that “multiple black women [are] being considered” for vice president. Those often named include Sen. Kamala Harris, former Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams and Florida Rep. Val Demings. Other Midwestern options, like Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, have also been mentioned.

But for many of these operatives, Klobuchar symbolizes a strategic division within the Democratic Party: Whether to focus on winning back white, Midwestern voters who flipped to Donald Trump in 2016, or on activating voters of color who were not excited to vote. She “represents that tension,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, who said he’s told Biden that he would prefer a black woman on the ticket but noted he’s “not anti-Amy.”

“It is not her fault, but she is in the middle of an ongoing battle from the last few presidential races,” Sharpton continued, adding he would be “concerned” that selecting Klobuchar would not help energize black and brown voters.

In a Washington Post op-ed this month urging Biden to select a woman of color as VP, seven black strategists and activists called out Klobuchar, warning she would “only alienate black voters.”

“Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, does not need help winning white, working-class voters — he serves that function himself,” they wrote. Referring to her record as a chief prosecutor in Minneapolis, they added, “A choice such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), who failed to prosecute controversial police killings and is responsible for the imprisonment of Myon Burrell, will only alienate black voters.”

“If it was important enough to raise in an op-ed, it speaks to how serious we are,” LaTosha Brown, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter and the lead op-ed author, said in an interview. “Her campaign appeal was about bringing in working class, white people from the Midwest, and perhaps that’s true, but that’s a particular strategy that doesn’t align with what it’s going to take to win. You need to excite the base.”

Angela Rye, a Democratic strategist and the former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, who also signed the op-ed, called Klobuchar a “non-starter.”

Klobuchar’s boosters counter that Donald Trump will drive out the Democratic base no matter what, and that the key Rust Belt states that Democrats have to win play to Klobuchar’s strengths.

“I think she could help put the upper Midwest in play, and that’s an invaluable asset,” said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who backed Bernie Sanders during the presidential primary. He also noted that “there are a lot of black people” in the Midwest, in cities like Detroit and Milwaukee, who will also be key for Democrats in winning back those states.

“I think the base is going to be excited enough because, before, Trump was an idea, now Trump is the reality,” Ellison continued.

Klobuchar has been working to improve her relationships with minority activists and politicians since she dropped out of the presidential race. She endorsed a slate of racially and regionally diverse candidates in down-ballot races. She’s worked with Stacey Abrams, another VP contender, to promote a vote-by-mail bill, which was endorsed by Voto Latino and Rev. Jesse Jackson earlier this month. She also wrote a bill to expand broadband access to studddents at historically-black colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions. And she participating in a virtual town hall hosted by the NAACP on how the coronavirus is disproportionately hurting black and brown people.

During the presidential primary, Leah Daughtry, CEO of the DNC’s conventions in 2008 and 2016, hosted Klobuchar with a group of influential black women leaders, “half she knew, half she didn’t,” and “people walked away with a favorable impression.”

But, Daughtry noted, “building relationships in every area of our lives takes time, including in politics,” and “it isn’t something you can do in a matter of weeks.”

The primary results illustrate the Klobuchar’s failure among voters of color.

In South Carolina, she won 1 percent of black voters, even though they make up a majority of Democratic primary voters in the state. It was the lowest total for any of the presidential candidates on the ballot.

In Nevada, Klobuchar received 4 percent support of the Latino vote, the lowest share of any presidential candidate other than Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. Nationally, Klobuchar regularly polled in the low single digits among voters of color.

“Could she have done more? Absolutely,” said Antjuan Seawright, a South Carolina-based Democratic consultant. “But she knew where her bread was buttered, and that started in Iowa. She was taking the race as it comes.”

Seawright noted that Biden’s own strength in the black community — as evidenced by his resounding victory in South Carolina, which revived his flailing campaign — “gives room for the potential for Amy Klobuchar” as vice president.

But Biden, too, was recently warned about not taking African American voters for granted. On Friday, he apologized on a conference call with black leaders for comments he made to “The Breakfast Club” radio host: “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”

Klobuchar’s prosecutorial record as Hennepin County attorney is another sore spot, particularly her handling of a case involving Burrell, a black teenager. An investigation by the Associated Press found numerous flaws in the case, and civil rights leaders in Minnesota called for her to suspend her presidential campaign.

Klobuchar called for an independent investigation after her campaign ended, a move applauded by the Minnesota NAACP.

If Biden picked Klobuchar as his vice president, “it would add to [his] workload” for the general election, said Daughtry, who signed on to another letter sent to Biden, urging the selection of a black woman.

“There are enough people who either A, don’t know her, or B, have a negative view of her that it becomes another thing the campaign has to do — introduce her and convince communities of color that she’s ok,” Daughtry said. “That’s not impossible, but there’s already a lot of work to do in a presidential race.”

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Trump administration asks Supreme Court to stop release of inmates at risk for COVID-19

The Supreme Court has been asked to stop the release of federal prison inmates vulnerable to the coronavirus in another emergency appeal from the Trump administration. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

The Trump administration is asking the Supreme Court to intervene for the first time in a case related to COVID-19, to block a judge’s order that a low-security federal prison in Ohio transfer, release or send home some of its elderly and medically vulnerable inmates.

“The government is currently facing numerous suits challenging conditions of confinement in federal prisons across the nation,” Solicitor Gen. Noel Francisco said in an appeal filed Friday evening, and the prisoners’ lawyers are seeking to require the wholesale release of inmates from low-security prisons by imposing “a constitutional six-feet-at-all-times rule” for social distancing.

The court, which could act this weekend, is thrust into the fray as state and federal prisons nationwide have become hot spots for infections and illness from the coronavirus, and prison officials have searched for ways to thin their populations. Earlier Friday, lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union told the justices it would be “a tremendous mistake” for the high court to intervene. They noted the Ohio judge had yet to order the release of a single inmate.

Granting the appeal would “block an order that will save lives,” said David Cole, the ACLU’s national legal director. “Around the country, courts have been slow to step in and take responsibility to protect the tens of thousands of incarcerated people who are at risk from this virus. Bold leadership from courts will be required to mitigate the humanitarian crisis we’re facing.”

The Elkton Federal Correctional Institution in northeast Ohio has been hard hit by the coronavirus. By early May, nine inmates had died, and one in four of those tested were positive.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of four inmates alleged that the conditions there were inhumane and unconstitutional, with 2,500 in

mates housed in cramped dormitory-style facilities, and crowded together when they slept, ate or bathed.

In response, U.S. District Judge James S. Gwin on April 22 ordered the prison to evaluate its prison population and identify those who were at high risk because they were 65 or older or had medical conditions like asthma or a heart ailment that put them in danger if they contracted the virus.

The prison subsequently said 837 inmates were in those categories. But officials later said only five of the inmates were suitable candidates to be confined at home or released. The lawyers who brought the suit expressed surprise, given that Atty. Gen. William Barr had told the federal Bureau of Prisons in late March to consider early release or home confinement in response to the virus.

Frustrated, the judge issued a new order on May 19 telling prison officials to send home or release the high-risk inmates or transfer them to another prison, or explain why they did not do so in each case. He said he wanted all the inmates to be reevaluated by May 26.

On Wednesday , the solicitor general went directly to the Supreme Court. Francisco said the justices should stay the judge’s order, blocking it while the government appeals to the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, or, if that fails, seeks a full review before the high court. The case is Williams vs. Wilson.

In past administrations, the government rarely sent emergency appeals to the high court. Typically, the solicitor general seeks review of a lower court ruling once the case has been finally decided by an appeals court. But since President Trump took office, the pattern has shifted. As his actions have been quickly challenged in federal courts, and often blocked by judges, just as regularly Francisco has gone directly to the high court and asked the justices to lift or set aside a lower court order.

Francisco has been successful most of the time. On Wednesday, for example, the justices issued a brief order to temporarily block House Democrats from seeing files and interviews from the investigation of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Two lower courts ruled the material must be turned over to the House, but the justices agreed to put those rulings on hold while Francisco submits a full appeal.

In the Ohio prison case, Francisco argued that the judge had overstepped his authority and evaded the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, which bars inmates from challenging prison conditions in federal court until they have tried to obtain relief through the prison grievance system.

Gwin had found that Elkton’s inhumane conditions violated the 8th Amendment banning cruel and unusual punishment, and said the need to remedy this constitutional violation justified his intervention.

Francisco called the action “judicial second guessing.” He said Gwin’s order “fails to account for the practical constraints facing prison administrators managing the nation’s prison system during a public-health emergency, and ignores the actual and extensive steps that they have taken to protect inmates from the risk of infection within those constraints.”

The ACLU lawyers said the pandemic requires an emergency response like the one Gwin ordered. “COVID-19 poses a particularly acute danger at Elkton, where prisoners are forced to live in a single dormitory room along with approximately 150 other people,” they told the court. “The government has limited the ability of [the inmates] to maintain adequate distance from each other, requiring them to sleep, eat, and live, just a few feet from other potentially contagious prisoners.”

The justices also have before them a similar, but more narrow appeal from a New Orleans lawyer who is seeking relief for a Louisiana inmate who has diabetes. In that case, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a federal district judge’s order in favor of the inmate.

Two weeks ago, the high court turned down an emergency appeal from two elderly inmates in a Texas state prison who sought more protections from COVID-19. The 5th Circuit also had blocked a judge’s order for those inmates, citing their failure to file an appeal or grievance with the prison system.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor agreed with the narrow ruling in the Texas case, Valentine vs. Collier, but wrote in a statement joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that judges needed to do more to protect inmates during this emergency.

“It has long been said that a society’s worth can be judged by taking stock of its prisons. That is all the truer in this pandemic, where inmates everywhere have been rendered vulnerable and often powerless to protect themselves from harm,” she said. “May we hope that our country’s facilities serve as models rather than cautionary tales.”

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Is Record USDA Farm Aid Another Permanent ‘Temporary Solution’? –

This week, the Trump administration announced an influx of billions of dollars in aid for U.S. farmers struggling due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In announcing the aid, President Donald Trump again positioned himself as “a great friend” of America’s farmers, a key Trump voting bloc that was awash in “Trump money” even before the pandemic.

Many American farmers are hurting today. Since the pandemic began, farmers “have been forced to destroy their crops, dump milk[,] and throw out perishable items that can’t be stored.”

The $19 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, first outlined last month, is “the first big push to ensure the pandemic does not trigger consumer food shortages.” It’s sending $16 billion in cash to farmers and ranchers in various sectors who are struggling due in part to rising costs and falling profits.

Earlier this month, as part of the same U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) coronavirus response, Trump announced the federal government would buy $3 billion in surplus food from U.S. farmers, for use at food banks. That aid is part of the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program, a COVID-era repackaging of the administration’s oft-ridiculed Harvest Box scheme.

The $19-billion coronavirus package is only about half the total COVID-19 aid earmarked for the agricultural sector.

As these figures suggest, the federal government is using a variety of avenues to pump record amounts of taxpayer money into the farm economy. But many Americans are increasingly skeptical of the payments. And some experts, NBC News reports, “are raising concerns about the very premise of the COVID-19 farmer aid.”

This week, the Environmental Working Group criticized the farm bailout, noting “most of the money won’t go to small family farmers but to the largest and wealthiest farms, which need the money the least.” Critics have also raised issues over the potential for farmers to inflate reported losses, whether and how to pay farmers for crops they haven’t even planted, and which agricultural products should be eligible for government payments.

The food-aid program is also drawing scrutiny. As Politico reported last week, the USDA has awarded millions of dollars to companies with little or no experience distributing bulk food to anyone, nevermind to food banks.

“An event planning company in San Antonio, Texas, known for throwing lavish weddings and high-end conferences, was awarded more than $39 million,” the paper reported. The food boxes were set to begin rolling out this week.

Notably, a good portion of the funding for the Trump administration’s farm payments comes—as Vox reported last month—through “the Commodity Credit Corporation, a New Deal-era subagency of the US Department of Agriculture tasked with stabilizing the agricultural sector through purchases, sales, and direct payments.”

Yes, that’s the same New Deal that President Franklin Roosevelt launched around 90 years ago to help lift the nation out of the Great Depression.

“During the height of the Great Depression in the 1930s,” I write in my book Biting the Hands that Feed Us, USDA Secretary Wallace “pitched farm subsidies as ‘a temporary solution to deal with an emergency.’ That emergency—long since ended—was the Great Depression.”

Those farm subsidies—which include direct payments to farmers, just like the USDA’s current coronavirus programs—have not only persisted uninterrupted to the present day, they’ve reshaped American agriculture in the process, forcing many American farmers to be responsive to and reliant on federal agricultural policies.

That’s plain wrong, as I’ve long argued. Others agree that annual USDA subsidies aren’t the answer to what ails us.

Nicholas Paulson, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois, told NBC News that farmers need help now, but suggests we need a better game plan going forward. “How long do we need to continue with, and how long can we continue with these multibillion support packages each year before we do something different?” Paulson wonders.

“I don’t want to rely on government money on a yearly basis, no way,” says Kansas rancher Kyle Hemmert, in that same NBC News piece. “I’d rather see a better system.”

If you want to be a friend to America’s farmers and ranchers, President Trump, please listen to Hemmert, Paulson, and others who want a better system. We can’t and we shouldn’t continue to throw money at farmers. Maybe, as I suggested in a tweet last week, we should eliminate farm subsidies altogether. Right now. 

Given the state of the economy, we could position the move—using Wallace’s own language—as “a temporary solution to deal with an emergency.”

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Adam Schiff Asks DNI to Declassify Flynn’s Phone Calls With Russians

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Cal), the House Intelligence Committee chairman sent a letter to Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell asking him to declassify transcripts of Michael Flynn’s phone calls with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and any reports summarizing their calls.

Full text of Adam Schiff letter to Acting DNI Grenell:

The Intelligence Community (“IC”) protects the identities of Americans who are referenced in intelligence obtained from lawful collection against authorized foreign targets that it disseminates to its customers through intelligence reports. IC elements do so by “masking” the U.S. person information in the intelligence report in a manner that protects those U.S. persons’ privacy. U.S. officials who are authorized recipients of these intelligence reports and who are charged with protecting national security may request, through a standardized process and with an appropriate and validated justification, the underlying U.S. person information that has been replaced by a generic descriptor (such as “U.S. person 1 “). The IC elements review those requests to validate the requester’s need to know this sensitive information before releasing that U.S. person information to the requester.

As you must now be aware, authorized U.S. officials make these requests so they can better understand specific intelligence reports and properly evaluate threats to our national security. The established procedures for doing so safeguard the privacy of Americans, while at the same time enabling U.S. officials to protect national security by requesting the U.S. person information that reveals who may be in harm’s way, who may be engaged in acts that threaten the country, or who, wittingly or unwittingly, may be acting to further the interests of foreign adversaries and, therefore, pose a counterintelligence risk or threat.

In late 2016 and early 2017, as the scope of Russia’s sweeping and systemic interference in our election was coming into focus, dozens of officials from across the U.S. government were briefed on intelligence reports on foreign actors that contained masked U.S. person information. As the list you declassified shows, these officials, either directly or through their IC briefers, submitted requests to understand who the U.S. person or persons were who were referenced in these reports on foreign targets. The masked U.S. persons referenced in these reports were revealed to be Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Michael Flynn, who served as an advisor to candidate and then President-elect Donald Trump–even as Lt. Gen. Flynn was working as an unregistered agent of a foreign government seeking to influence U.S. policy through at least mid-November 2016. National Security Agency (“NSA”) Director General Paul Nakasone’s May 4, 2020 response to your request, which you declassified, confirmed that each of the U.S. officials who requested the masked U.S. person information was “an authorized recipient of the original report” and the requests to reveal the masked U.S. person information were “approved through NSA’s standard process, which includes a review of the justification for the request.”

As detailed in charging documents and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election, during this timeframe, the IC also became aware of Lt. Gen. Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak regarding, among other things, sanctions that the United States had recently imposed on Russia as a penalty for its interference in the 2016 presidential election. Lt. Gen. Flynn did not disclose these communications with the Russian Ambassador to the outgoing administration, despite the long-established principle that the United States has only one government at a time.

In January 2017, Lt. Gen. Flynn lied about the content of these communications to Vice President-elect Mike Pence and-after he began serving as President Trump’s National Security Advisor-to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”). This created a clear and untenable counterintelligence and national security risk for the United States. As witnesses testified to the Committee, the Senate, and to Special Counsel Mueller, Lt. Gen. Flynn’s readily provable lies provided the Russians leverage over the new National Security Advisor because they knew he was lying about the substance of his conversations with Ambassador Kislyak. Lt. Gen. Flynn, himself, later pleaded guilty under oath-twice-to lying to the FBI about these communications. Even President Trump publicly explained at the time, “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the vice president and the FBI.”

Your decision to declassify the list of executive branch officials that you requested NSA compile, and then asked that NSA revise to your specification, is without precedent. It was a transparent political act-in an election year and during a pandemic, no less-in which you used the authorities of your position to insinuate wrongdoing by officials who acted appropriately in requesting the identity of masked U.S. persons to better understand foreign intelligence reports. This is inconsistent with the oath and obligations of an acting Director of National Intelligence. Selective declassification for political purposes is inappropriate, corrupt, and undermines public confidence in the IC as an apolitical pillar protecting the country regardless of the political affiliation of its Executive Branch customers.

To ensure a transparent and complete public record free of political manipulation, the Committee therefore requests that you or your successor:

      1. Declassify and make publicly available any intelligence report or transcript concerning conversations between Lt. Gen. Flynn and former Russian Ambassador Kislyak. These communications have been the subject of thorough law enforcement investigation and criminal proceedings, and no national security rationale remains to suppress these records on classification grounds.
      2. Produce to the Committee in full, consistent with 50 USC §3092(a)(2),9 the underlying intelligence reports that were the subject of U.S. person identity requests revealed in General Nakasone’s May 4, 2020 memorandum to you, as well as the rationale for your decision to request and then declassify the list of officials.
      3. Declassify and make publicly available, with appropriate redactions to protect sensitive sources and methods, these same underlying intelligence reports, so that the public can understand why so many U.S. officials from across the government independently sought to learn the identity of a masked American, who would tum out to be Lt. Gen. Flynn, who was communicating with or referenced by lawful targets of foreign intelligence collection.