Day: February 25, 2020


Next-generation Bush runs headlong into Trump's GOP…

Top party strategists believe his profile as the CEO of the largest Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliate in the country, and his family’s long-standing cachet in Texas, is precisely what they need to hold on to the state’s rapidly diversifying suburbs.

But first he has to make it through two rounds of GOP primaries in Donald Trump’s Republican Party, a test of the public’s appetite for a Bush — even in Texas — at a time when his family name has been disparaged by the president.

His predicament is an extreme version of the conundrum plaguing the party in swing districts: The candidate who’s perhaps best positioned to win sometimes struggles to gain traction in a system that rewards blind fealty to the president.

The open-seat race in Texas’ 22nd District, which spans the southern suburbs of Houston, has drawn a massive field of 15 Republicans. Most private polling indicates a fierce three-way battle to advance to a runoff from the March 3 primary, and a very real chance Bush gets boxed out.

His biggest competition: Kathaleen Wall, a Republican megadonor who has dumped millions of her own money on TV ads that heavily feature Trump and her slogan that “This Wall Will Build the Wall,” and Troy Nehls, sheriff of the largest county in the district, who made national news over a Facebook post in which he appeared to threaten disorderly conduct charges against the driver of a car with a profane anti-Trump bumper sticker.

Bush, 33, is facing questions about his level of commitment to Trump and the party’s agenda, fueled in part by his family’s fraught history with the president. He has made clear he is supportive of the president, though his political foes are quick to question the depth of that loyalty.

“It’s an honorable family, this and that,” Nehls said at a campaign fundraiser this month. “But again to try to come into a district that you haven’t lived and to try and convince people that you’re the one that’s going to go up and help Donald Trump accomplish his goals and objectives — I don’t think the people are buying it.”

Bush, who recently moved into the suburban district, has a carefully calibrated message about using conservative ideals to expand opportunity, fight socialism and find a way to ensure the GOP appeals to the changing demographics of the state and the district.

“When my uncle George ran for governor of Texas, nobody thought he could win. And he won by outreaching to all corners of the state,” Bush said in an interview, noting that in his uncle’s 1998 reelection campaign, he garnered nearly 50 percent of the Hispanic vote in the state.

“The guy embodied what it meant to be a compassionate leader, and someone who is really conclusive and understood that we have to be a big-tent party,” he said. “And, I don’t know — I just fundamentally believe that we have to embody that same strategy again.”

Bush is adamant his political worldview — and Texas’ lurch to the middle since 2016 — is not a rejection of Trump. He is quick to heap praise on the president’s economic record and job creation and predicts he will be handily reelected in November.

But looming over his campaign is the question of the staying power of the Bush brand, even in Texas. And his grandfather’s and uncles’ open distaste for Trump puts him in somewhat of a bind.

While canvassing one weekend this month in Pearland with his wife, Sarahbeth, and their Instagram-famous dog, Winston Moose, it took only a few minutes for Bush to run into a voter who called his grandfather “a good man.” But, he said, he would not be supporting any Republican for Congress.

“He was a good man, but why can’t you vote for us?” Bush asked.

The reply: “Because I don’t support the individual at the top.”

Bush takes family comments in stride and has a polite and friendly campaign-style. (He apologized for asking people to talk politics on a recent Saturday, gives his cell phone number to voters and leaves notes on campaign literature at houses where no one is home.)

Later, in another neighborhood, Bush knocked on the door of Jason Franco, a veteran who said he was “full Trump” and alluded to the Bush family’s skepticism of the current president. “Every family, though, has their own opinions,” Bush told him, prompting agreement from Franco.

Bush’s Republican opponents suggest his support for Trump is disingenuous. Some have highlighted a Facebook photo he posted in January 2017 that shows Bush and his sister at a New York march protesting Trump’s immigration policies.

Knowing that Trump would handily win Texas and out of concern about the tone of the 2016 race, Bush did not cast a vote in the presidential election but voted straight Republican down the ballot. He has since been very impressed with Trump, he said, particularly his economic achievements. He called Trump the right president for the current political climate — just as Ronald Reagan was the “perfect president” to bring down the Soviet Union, and his grandfather was “the perfect person” to end the Cold War.

“I think we needed a disrupter,” he said.

As for immigration, Bush said at a forum earlier this month he was against religious litmus tests when Trump first unveiled the “Muslim ban” but noted the policy had been reformed several times since it was first implemented. He defended Trump, citing his access to classified intelligence about the threats facing the country. “I’ve been honored to be close to some presidents during some really tough times, and the people that are in those rooms needed to be trusted,” he said.

But voters in this former GOP bastion are more skeptical of Trump, and Democrats see an opportunity to pad their House majority and inch closer to potentially putting Texas in play statewide. While Mitt Romney won the district by 25 points in 2012, Trump carried it by just 8 four years later. In 2018, Sen. Ted Cruz won by less than a point, and Rep. Pete Olson, the incumbent, is retiring this year after watching his victory margin fall from 19 points in 2016 to just 5 points last cycle.

Sri Kulkarni, a former foreign-service officer, is running again after a narrow loss and is redoubling his efforts to turn out new Democratic voters. Only 41 percent of the district’s residents are white, and Kulkarni has taken a particular focus on reaching out to new immigrants. In an interview after a meet-and-greet event, he suggested Bush was straddling an impossible line.

“You’ve got to choose whether you agree with the direction the Republican Party has gone, or not,” Kulkarni said. “You can’t just say, ‘Well, I 100 percent support Trump, and I’m inclusive.’ Those two things are not mutually compatible.”

Bush leans heavily on his non-profit background to set him apart in a crowded race. He joined Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star as a volunteer before rising through the ranks, and the Houston Chronicle touted his leadership of the group as part of the reasoning behind their recent endorsement.

Yet some prominent Houston Democrats who knew him through nonprofit circles said they were taken aback by his strong praise for Trump and his TV-ad pledge to “deport criminal illegals.”

“I’ve met him on more than one occasion — and, frankly, it’s been a surprise to me to hear his views on some stands knowing his Big Brothers Big Sisters sort-of philanthropic side,” said Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), a long-time Houston politician who endorsed Kulkarni. “He has said some things that are concerning. It appears to be, like, out of character.”

Still, Bush clearly has a rapport with many of the immigrant communities in the district and appears to conduct more outreach than his leading rivals. He spent a recent Sunday bouncing between events hosted by two different minority groups.

Privately, some Republicans worry neither Nehls nor Wall will be able to gain traction in such a diverse district. Democrats plan to exploit both as immigration hard-liners. Nehls, the Fort Bend County sheriff, boasted in an interview of his record “of locking over 2,500 criminal illegal aliens in our jail and holding them for ICE.” Wall is attempting to position herself to Nehl’s right on the issue.

But both have perhaps a clearer shot to the runoff than Bush, who didn’t enter the race until just before the mid-December filing deadline. Wall has substantial name ID after a failed 2018 run in a neighboring district, and Nehls has a formidable base in Fort Bend.

Advocates for all of the top candidates have pitched people in the president’s political orbit on an endorsement, according to a source familiar with those conversations, though Trump has stayed out of the race thus far.

Bush’s path to victory is likely to raise the turnout in the March 3 race beyond the GOP activist class, and an early-vote analysis conducted by the Bush campaign found that 20 percent of Republicans who have voted early so far are participating in a Texas GOP primary for the first time. He also benefits from a super PAC advertising on his behalf.

Throughout the campaign he has deployed Uncle George W. Bush’s refrain that he gained half of his father’s friends when he entered politics as the son of a president — but all of his enemies.

The question now is how many friends remain in the Trump era.

At a recent crawfish boil fundraiser for Nehls, Mike Richards, a former state senator and radio host, said he was a longtime supporter of both Bush presidents, but that he could not endorse “the progeny” after the 2016 election.

Richards said he could no longer even bear to display a photo of him and his wife with George H.W. Bush.

“When he said that he voted for Hillary Clinton,” Richards said, “I took that picture down.”

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Judge Clears Way For Nation's First Supervised Injection Site In Phily…

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President slams juror…

The forewoman of the jury that convicted President Donald Trump’s longtime ally Roger Stone testified Tuesday at a hearing on whether a new trial should be granted in light of her social media posts that were critical of Trump.

Tomeka Hart’s nearly hour-long appearance in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., came shortly after Trump attacked her several times on Twitter.

Stone’s lawyers are arguing that Hart’s alleged “misconduct” tainted the trial of the Republican operative.

Hart testified that she did not read news accounts or Twitter posts about the trial when she was serving on the case, and denied deleting any posts she had made on social media.

Stone’s lawyers argued that Hart lied on her jury questionnaire when she said she was unsure if she had ever posted anything on social media about Stone. She had, in fact, re-tweeted an article that mentioned she shortly after his arrest in early 2019.

“That was the honest answer on Sept. 12. That’s why I didn’t check yes or no,” Hart testified.

One of Stone’s lawyers asked her about tweet she wrote before Stone’s arrest referring to the rapper Chuck D of the hip-hop group Public Enemy. The judge in the case, Amy Berman Jackson, cut off that line of questioning.

Jackson did not rule Tuesday on the request for a new trial. She did not say when she would issue her decision.

Earlier Tuesday, the judge barred the public from the courtroom for that hearing, saying that tweets by Trump and others may have raised the risk of harassment to jurors who might be testifying there.

Eleven jurors came to the hearing, but only Hart and two other jurors were called to testify in the courtroom, where they were watched by Stone.

Those two other jurors testified that Hart was fair during deliberations and encouraged members of the jury to consider all of the evidence. At one point, one juror said, even after most of the jury had decided Stone was guilty on a particular criminal count, “it was the foreman that insisted that we examine question 3, charge 3 a little more.”

“It was the foreperson who insisted that that level of attention be paid to that count even though some of you were already ready to decide?” Jackson asked.

“Yes,” the juror answered.

While Jackson barred the press and other members from the hearing room, she allowed reporters and others to listen to the hearing on an audio feed elsewhere in the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse.

Jackson last week sentenced Stone to 40 months in prison for lying to Congress and witness tampering.

But she suspended imposing the sentence pending her decision on his request for a new trial.

Even as the hearing got underway, Trump again tweeted about Hart, writing, “There has rarely been a juror so tainted as” her.

“Look at her background. She never revealed her hatred of ‘Trump’ and Stone. She was totally biased, as is the judge. Roger wasn’t even working on my campaign. Miscarriage of justice. Sad to watch.”

A Democrat who once ran for Congress out of Tennessee, Hart’s LinkedIn page identifies her as a senior program officer at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She previously served as president and CEO of the Memphis Urban League, and on the Memphis, Tenn., school board.

Stone’s lawyers argue that Hart “misled the Court regarding her ability to be unbiased and fair and the juror attempted to cover up evidence that would directly contradict her false claims of impartiality.”

During the hearing Tuesday after the public left the courtroom, Stone’s attorney Seth Ginsberg told Jackson that Hart’s answers to several questions on a jury questionnaire were “at best misleading.”

“It may be that she believed them to be truthful, but she concealed evidence regarding her views that would have been important for the court and the parties to understand her bias,” Ginsberg argued.

When pressed by Jackson, Ginsberg said he considered her answers to be “intentionally” misleading.

Ginsburg pointed to posts by Hart that shared critical stories about Trump and Stone, which he argued “imply a bias” against Stone.

In one post, the foreperson shared an article about Stone, and herself wrote, “brought to you by the lock her up peanut brigade”.

Ginsberg said, “That indicates she did more than pass it along because she thought it was a cute headline.”

The failure of Stone’s lawyers to discover Hart’s social media posts related to Trump before she was placed on the jury without objection by them has raised eyebrows among Stone’s supporters.

The posts came to light only earlier this month when a conservative commentator tweeted about them after Hart publicly identified herself as the jury forewoman in a Facebook post.

Stone’s other defense lawyer Robert Buschel admitted Tuesday that no one on the defense team, which included jury selection consultants, had done a search on the internet for the names of potential jurors once they became known to both prosecutors and defense attorneys.

“I think it’s a regular practice by trial lawyers these days to Google individuals on the jury panel list, wouldn’t you agree?” Jackson noted.

Earlier Tuesday afternoon, Jackson first held a hearing on Stone’s motion to open the courtroom to the public for the second hearing on his request for a new trial.

Jackson cited Trump’s Feb. 13 tweet about Hart, in which he wrote that it appeared that the forewoman had “significant bias. Add that to everything else, and this is not looking good for the ‘Justice’ Department.”

The judge, before ruling that the hearing in Stone’s case should be held in a sealed courtroom, albeit with a public audio feed, also referred to comments by Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Alex Jones, the head of far-right conspiracy site Infowars.

Carlson “accused the foreperson of the jury of being an anti-Trump zealot,” Jackson noted.

The judge described a segment on Carlson’s show in which he slammed the juror as biased and broadcast her Twitter handle, according to NBC News.

Such criticisms might put jurors’ safety at risk, Jackson said.

“Individuals who are angry about Mr. Stone’s conviction may choose to take it out on them personally,” she said, NBC reported.

“While judges may have volunteered for their positions, jurors are not volunteers,” Jackson said.

“They are deserving of the public’s respect and they deserve to have their privacy respected.”

On Monday, Jackson had rejected Stone’s motion that she disqualify herself from further involvement in the case — including the question of whether he should be granted another trial.

Stone’s attorneys had argued that Jackson’s impartiality came into question when she said during the sentencing hearing that the jurors in Stone’s case “served with integrity under difficult circumstances.”

Her comments, the defense lawyers argued, show that the judge has prejudged whether Hart — whose anti-Trump social media posts were discovered after Stone was convicted on seven criminal counts — committed misconduct.

Stone was convicted last fall of lying to Congress about his contacts during the 2016 presidential election with the Trump campaign as he sought to get information about emails stolen by Russian agents from eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager and the Democratic National Committee.

He also was convicted of trying to tamper with a witness, the comedian Randy Credico, whom he pressured to endorse his lies.

Prosecutors at Stone’s trial said that he kept Trump’s camp aware of what he had learned about WikiLeaks’ plans for releasing the emails, which were embarassing to Clinton and the DNC.

But Stone had told the House committee he had no such conversations with the Trump campaign about WikiLeaks.

Trump in written answers in late 2018 to then-special counsel Robert Mueller, said, “I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with” Stone, “nor do I recall Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with my campaign.”

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San Fran declares state of emergency…

San Francisco Mayor London Breed (D) declared a state of emergency for the city on Tuesday amid concerns over the international coronavirus outbreak.

While no coronavirus cases have been confirmed in San Francisco, “the global picture is changing rapidly, and we need to step-up preparedness,” Breed said in a statement.

“We see the virus spreading in new parts of the world every day, and we are taking the necessary steps to protect San Franciscans from harm.”  

The new state of emergency will allow city officials to assemble resources and personnel to expedite emergency planning measures and boost the ability to deploy a rapid response to a potential coronavirus case in the city.

The move follows a similar declaration from Santa Clarity County earlier this month. The declaration is effective immediately for seven days and will be voted on by the Board of Supervisors on March 3. 

The statement from Breed comes amid stark warnings from U.S. health officials over the chances of an outbreak of the virus in the U.S. 

“As more and more countries experience community spread, successful containment at our borders becomes harder and harder,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Tuesday. 

“It’s not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses,” she added. “Disruption to everyday life might be severe.”

Over 77,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in China, where the virus was first detected, but there have been more than 2,000 cases identified in other countries. Fifty-seven cases have been confirmed in the U.S., including 40 people who had been repatriated to the country from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. 

Some lawmakers have expressed skepticism that the administration is taking bold enough action to curb the risk of the virus spreading in the U.S., with some saying the $2.5 billion it requested in in emergency coronavirus funding was insufficient.

“It seems to me at the outset that this request for the money, the supplemental, is lowballing it, possibly, and you can’t afford to do that,” Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyOvernight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — White House to request emergency coronavirus funds | Trump backs off plan to house virus patients in Alabama | Court sides with Trump in family planning case Trump backs off plan to house coronavirus patients in Alabama after GOP objections On The Money: Republicans expect Trump to pull controversial Fed nominee | Inside Judy Shelton’s confirmation hearing | Trump extends emergency declaration at border MORE (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar during a hearing on the agency’s budget request.

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Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump response…

Lawmakers in both parties on Tuesday expressed growing alarm that the threat of coronavirus in the United States is serious, and that the Trump administration is not doing enough to fight it. 

Two Cabinet members at separate hearings were grilled over what lawmakers described as an insufficient response so far, while Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyOvernight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — White House to request emergency coronavirus funds | Trump backs off plan to house virus patients in Alabama | Court sides with Trump in family planning case Trump backs off plan to house coronavirus patients in Alabama after GOP objections On The Money: Republicans expect Trump to pull controversial Fed nominee | Inside Judy Shelton’s confirmation hearing | Trump extends emergency declaration at border MORE (R-Ala.) said the White House’s budget request to handle the disease was lackluster.

“It seems to me at the outset that this request for the money, the supplemental, is lowballing it, possibly, and you can’t afford to do that,” Shelby told Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar during a hearing on the agency’s budget request. 

“If you lowball something like this, you’ll pay for it later,” he added, telling reporters he planned to recommend a “higher” amount without offering details.

Democrats were unsparing on their criticism, with Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) saying the administration was showing “towering and dangerous incompetence” in its response to the virus.

He called for at least $3.1 billion in funding and for the administration to appoint a czar to oversee the response. 

The broadsides from lawmakers came against the backdrop of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issuing a warning for the country to prepare for an outbreak of cases in the U.S., and another difficult day on Wall Street, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 879 points. The index lost more than 1,000 points the previous day.

Messages from the White House diverged throughout Tuesday, with White House economic adviser Larry KudlowLawrence (Larry) Alan KudlowMORE raising eyebrows with remarks in an CNBC interview stating that the virus was “contained” and that it was pretty close to “air-tight.”

His remarks came the same day the CDC warned of an inevitable outbreak in the United States.

“It’s not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses,” Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters. “Disruption to everyday life might be severe.”

The widely different messages from administration officials coming the same day invited criticism from Democrats.

“It is clear this administration is in total disarray when it comes to this crisis of the coronavirus,” Schumer said Tuesday.

He also ripped the administration for budget cuts to the CDC.  

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBloomberg called Warren ‘scary,’ knocked Obama’s first term in leaked audio Paul Ryan says he disagrees with Romney’s impeachment vote Progressives hope Nevada offers roadmap for pro-union 2020 victory MORE (Utah), the only Republican to vote for Trump’s impeachment earlier this year, also harshly criticized the administration.

“I’m very disappointed in the degree to which we’ve prepared for a pandemic, both in terms of protective equipment and in terms of medical devices that would help people once they are infected,” Romney said.

Democrats have pushed for weeks for emergency funding, but Azar had previously taken the position that no new funds were necessary. Democrats said the $2.5 billion request that came Monday night was inadequate, and they faulted its lack of details and cost estimates.

“They should have made this request three weeks ago when a lot of us were begging for it,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyThe Hill’s Morning Report – Sanders steamrolls to South Carolina primary, Super Tuesday Sunday shows – 2020 spotlight shifts to South Carolina Murphy: No concerns with Sanders on gun policy MORE (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “I worry that it’s both too little and potentially too late.”

Democrats have also criticized the Trump administration’s dismantlement of a global health security team on the National Security Council that could have helped coordinate the government’s response. 

They say the administration should designate a public health expert to lead the response, and not leave it to Azar, who also has to run one of the government’s largest agencies.

“They tore down the National Security Council capacity to deal with pandemic disease; they’re putting somebody in charge of the response who has a million other jobs,” Murphy said. “There’s just no seriousness in this administration about a disease that is going to be a global pandemic, that is going to shave 5 to 10 points off global markets, and I think that’s really frightening.”

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care: Senate panel to hold hearing on US coronavirus response | Dems demand Trump withdraw religious provider rule | Trump Medicaid proposal sparks bipartisan backlash Democratic senators urge Trump administration to request emergency funding for coronavirus response Democrats demand Trump administration withdraw religious provider rule MORE (D-Wash.) questioned Azar at a hearing Tuesday about whether the U.S. was ready for an outbreak, questioning why the country doesn’t have enough medical supplies and protective gear stockpiled. 

“We are disregarding scientific evidence and relying on tweets and an emergency supplemental without details, and we’re not stockpiling things right now we know we might possibly need for this or for any other future pandemic,” she said. “I am deeply concerned we are way behind the eight ball on this.”

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) separately grew visibly irate in questioning acting Department of Homeland Security head Chad WolfChad WolfSanders says he was briefed on Russian effort to help campaign Trump dismisses reports of Russian meddling, labels them Democratic ‘misinformation campaign’ Hillicon Valley: Barr threatens tech’s prized legal shield | House panel seeks information from Amazon’s Ring | Trump DOJ backs Oracle in Supreme Court fight against Google | TikTok unveils new safety controls MORE at a hearing on Tuesday, after Wolf could not provide satisfactory answers to questions like the mortality rate from the virus and the number of masks needed. 

“You’re the secretary, I think you ought to know that answer,” Kennedy told him. 

Asked later by reporters if the administration’s response has been good, Kennedy said, “I’ve heard three responses today and they’re all different.”

Azar defended the administration’s response Tuesday, arguing it has “aggressively” moved to contain the coronavirus by banning foreign nationals from entering the country if they had recently traveled in China. But he conceded there might be a limit to what they can do. 

“We cannot hermetically seal off the United States to a virus,” Azar said. “And we need to be realistic about that.”

Some Republicans defended the administration’s response.

“We’ve done a good job so far,” said Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderBill Barr is trying his best to be Trump’s Roy Cohn The Trump administration’s harmful and immoral attack on children Democrats worried about Trump’s growing strength MORE (R-Tenn.), noting the number of U.S. cases had stayed flat at 14 for several days, not counting people returning from a cruise ship overseas.

There are 57 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S., including in 40 Americans who were repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. 

Alexander called the funding request “a good start,” adding, “if they need more, we’ll appropriate it.”

Azar said the U.S. currently has 30 million masks stockpiled, but needs 300 million masks just for health workers. The supplemental funding would pay for those masks, as well as the development of vaccines and treatments, assistance for state and local health departments and improved surveillance of the disease.

Separately, problems with a test developed by the CDC has delayed the ability of state and local health departments to test patients for the coronavirus. 

House Democrats plan to put forward their own funding bill at a higher amount. 

“The House will swiftly advance a strong, strategic funding package that fully addresses the scale and seriousness of this public health crisis,” Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBottom Line Immigrants who seek opportunity should comply with longstanding American values Trump’s intel moves spark Democratic fury MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement Monday night. 

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Down Syndrome no obstacle for aspiring French politician…

Arras (France) (AFP) – When the mayor of Arras, a town in northern France, asked her to stand as a candidate in upcoming municipal elections, Eleonore Laloux, who has Down Syndrome, did not hesitate.

“I would like Arras to change, for there to be improvements… mainly with regard to cleanliness and respect, but also accessibility” for disabled people, the 34-year-old administrative agent and activist told AFP.

“I am ready to make this change happen,” Laloux said at her apartment in the city centre, its walls dotted with photos of her posing with TV personalities.

If her campaign succeeds, she will become the country’s first serving municipal councillor with Down Syndrome.

Laloux, who lives alone, is fond of fashion and movies, and loves strumming her electric guitar.

She speaks with some difficulty but moves around with seeming ease. Big rings adorn her well-manicured hands, and trendy, multicoloured glasses frame her face.

For years, Laloux has fought for people with Down Syndrome and other disabilities to be able to live happier and more productive lives as fully integrated members of society.

“If I were to see Emmanuel Macron, I would tell him: ‘I have something to say to you — I would like us to talk a bit more about people with disabilities and above all about their inclusion’,” she said of the French president.

This month, Sophie Cluzel, deputy minister in charge of disabilities, urged political parties “to make place for handicapped people” on their candidates’ lists for local elections starting March 15.

Laloux is standing for the centrist “Arras pour Vous” (Arras for You) party of Mayor Frederic Leturque, who said “her courage and her perspective” would make a big difference to how the town is run.

“She will be a councillor like no other, but she will be a councillor in her own right,” he wrote on Facebook recently.

– ‘I know what I want’ –

“I am neither on the right nor the left, I am in the centre,” Laloux told AFP of her political leanings.

Her priorities are not ideological as much as personal: Laloux says she wants to “make perspectives change” about disabled people, and “improve accessibility” for them.

“This is a project close to my heart,” the candidate told AFP of her foray into the cutthroat world of electoral politics.

“The mayor trusts me because he knows I am a determined young woman who loves life. I know what I want, I have a crazy temperament but I am happy that Frederic accepts me as I am,” she said

Laloux already has an impressive resume, having worked for 14 years as an administrative agent at a private hospital.

On top of her day job, she is involved with the Down Up association in her home town, as well as the “Amis d’Eleonore” (The Friends of Eleonore) collective created by her parents, dedicated to helping people with mental disabilities.

In 2014, she published a book entitled “Triso et allors!” (Down Syndrome and So What!) about the obstacles she has had to overcome.

Laloux has fought long and hard to live a “normal” life, refusing to be defined by her handicap.

She went to a regular school, and left her parents’ home eight years ago to live on her own.

“I do a bit of cooking, I check my mails… I like to feel resourceful,” she said.

In her free time she likes putting on a DVD or listening to Bob Dylan, Blur and Radiohead.

– ‘Born different’ –

“We have always wanted for Eleonore, who was born different, to be able to live like anyone else,” her father Emmanuel Laloux, 66, told AFP.

“When you view a person through the prism of their inabilities… they will behave like a disabled person. But if you view them for their abilities, they can grow,” he said.

Emmanuel Laloux said he backed his daughter’s political ambitions on the proviso that her colleagues “truly take into account her needs in terms of intellectual accessibility”.

Leturque said special provisions would be made for Laloux, who he said would be “accompanied” in her duties by Sylvie Noclercq, Arras’ councillor for health and disability issues.

Macron hosted a national conference on disabilities this month, announcing that 15,000 assistants would be hired in the next two years to help handicapped children go to school.

According to government statistics, some 2.7 million people — out of a French population of almost 67 million — suffer a disability that results in some form of physical limitation.

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Democratic National Committee spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa: “I’ll let Bernie Sanders speak for his comments but we are very clear in the Democratic party that we speak out against brutal dictatorships like those of Castro. And we support the people of Cuba, fleeing Cuba under that dictatorship. And we have been very clear as a party when it comes to that.”

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Last Stand…

South Carolina could be the last stand of Joe Biden’s political career. “If Biden doesn’t have a big win, the reality is, it’s over,” says one Democratic strategist who is backing the former vice president largely in hopes of stopping Bernie Sanders from winning the party’s presidential nomination. “If the campaign doesn’t get that, they’re delusional.”

Biden has long banked on South Carolina as his firewall. But after losses in the first three nomination contests, his numbers are heading in the wrong direction. Black voters, who are expected to make up two-thirds of the South Carolina primary electorate, are leaving him in droves: Biden enjoyed 54% support among black Democrats in a November CBS poll; that number now stands at 35%. Among all Democrats in South Carolina, Biden is only slightly ahead of Sanders, 28% to 23%, according to the latest CBS poll.

To avoid slipping into second place, Biden must stop losing black voters to billionaire Tom Steyer, who is owning the airwaves, and blunt the rise of Sanders. The expected endorsement of Biden from Congressman Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House, a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus and a kingmaker in his state, could help. And if Biden can beat Sanders in tonight’s debate and then run out the clock through Saturday’s vote, he could stay alive to fight in Super Tuesday on March 3.

If he doesn’t, Biden will have no one to blame but himself. “He flat took this state for granted,” says Laurin Manning Gandy, a digital strategist who was among President Barack Obama’s first hires in South Carolina. Based in the state, she worked on the campaign of a Biden rival, Sen. Cory Booker and saw firsthand how hustle matters: Biden visited the state as a candidate just six times last year, whereas Booker made twice as many trips. Biden argued that he didn’t need to spend as much time introducing himself to voters after almost five decades in the spotlight.

It’s true that Biden has a long history in South Carolina. When he was grieving the deaths of his wife and daughter in 1972, Sen. Fritz Hollings of South Carolina persuaded him to go forward with his plans to represent Delaware in Washington. The decision defined Biden’s adult life, and in the ensuing years, the Biden family vacationed in South Carolina regularly and plotted political strategy on the covered porches of rental mansions. After Beau Biden died in 2015, the extended family gathered on Kiawah Island, south of Charleston.

In the run-up to the decision to forego a presidential run in 2016, South Carolina was a place for quiet consideration. Biden sees many of the state’s veteran activists as personal friends, many dating from his first run for the nomination back in 1988. Biden tends to be more relaxed and loose-tongued when there, which simultaneously brings out his best campaign instincts and his worst penchant for flubs.

Biden’s backers are trying to emphasize the positive, arguing that the increasing likelihood of a Sanders nomination is rejuvenating the former Vice President’s supporters. “I’m more optimistic than I was,” says Matt Bennett, a co-founder of the centrist think-tank Third Way which is trying to block a Sanders nomination. Bennett has been working the coffee house circuit in Charleston, the last two days, trying to pigeonhole campaign staffers and reporters alike to warn them of Sanders’ down-ballot riskiness. “There’s a little bit of a groundswell for Biden after Sanders won Nevada. It’s starting to get real,” says Bennett, who has spent months on an anti-Sanders crusade.

Biden for his part is projecting confidence that his support will hold. “They know me,” Biden told MSNBC on Sunday evening when asked about his standing with black voters. “They know me really well. They know I’ve had Barack’s back.” Obama remains the most popular Democrat in the country and even more so in South Carolina and Biden has spent recent days alleging on the trail that Sanders was disloyal to the 44th president.

Sanders lost to Clinton by a 3-to-1 margin in the state in 2016, but is creeping closer to Biden in no small measure thanks to his on-the-ground organization and Steyer’s heavy spending on the air. Steyer has spent $12 million on South Carolina broadcast ads, more than 50 times what Biden has spent, according to an analysis from the Institute for Southern Studies. The same ratio continues on social media spending, where Steyer’s almost $1.6 million South Carolina outlay gives him a 46-fold advantage over Biden.

The spending has made a difference. In the CBS polling of South Carolina voters, Steyer has grown from 2% support among African Americans in November to 24% support now. “What’s happening is you have Steyer spending hundreds of millions, tens of thousands of dollars, millions of dollars, out campaigning there,” Biden told CBS News.

Biden’s campaign seems to know what they are up against. Much of the staff at Biden’s Philadelphia headquarters has deployed into the field. Biden has been in South Carolina since Sunday and plans to camp out there all week. So nervous is the campaign that Biden changed his schedule on Monday evening to take a detour to a state party fundraiser he had planned to blow off.

But even if the state goes Biden’s way, it may not be enough. Biden won’t be able to match the spending of a billionaire like Steyer, or, looking ahead, Michael Bloomberg, who starts appearing on ballots for March 3’s Super Tuesday. His best shot is to rebuild the winning Obama coalition, including sky-high support among African Americans.

But Biden would have a very narrow, three-day window to campaign and to raise cash as a winner before Super Tuesday resets the race. The 14 states that cast ballots on Super Tuesday may offer Biden’s rivals a chance at safe harbor, if not redemption, should his firewall hold. After all, four of them are home-states for the contenders and none has significant Biden preparations underway. “Even if Biden performs very well in South Carolina, how does that catapult him?” says Ami Copeland, a former top fundraiser for Obama who has donated to former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. “It’s going to be hard.”

No one sees that clearer than Biden.

With reporting by Alana Abramson

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Africa's huge locust outbreak now spreads to Congo…

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — A small group of desert locusts has entered Congo, marking the first time the voracious insects have been seen in the Central African country since 1944, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Agency said Tuesday as U.N. agencies warned of a “major hunger threat” in East Africa from the flying pests.

Kenya, Somalia and Uganda have been battling the swarms in the worst locust outbreak that parts of East Africa have seen in 70 years. The U.N. said swarms have also been sighted in Djibouti, Eritrea and Tanzania and recently reached South Sudan, a country where roughly half the population already faces hunger after years of civil war.

A joint statement Tuesday from FAO director-general Qu Dongyu, U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, and World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley called the swarms of locusts “a scourge of biblical proportions” and “a graphic and shocking reminder of this region’s vulnerability.”

The FAO said mature locusts, carried in part by the wind, arrived on the western shore of Lake Albert in eastern Congo on Friday near the town of Bunia. The country has not seen locusts for 75 years, it said.

“Needless to say the potential impact of locusts on a country still grappling with complex conflict, Ebola and measles outbreaks, high levels of displacement, and chronic food insecurity would be devastating,” the U.N. officials said in the joint statement.

Locust swarms can reach the size of major cities and can destroy crops and devastate pasture for animals.

Experts have warned that the outbreak is affecting millions of already vulnerable people across the region.

Uganda’s government said Tuesday it was trying to contain a large swarm and will need more resources to control the infestation that has spread to over 20 districts in the north. Soldiers have been battling swarms using hand-held spray pumps, while experts have said aerial spraying is the only effective control.

The U.N. recently raised its aid appeal from $76 million to $138 million, saying the need for more help is urgent.

“This funding will ensure that activities to control the locusts can take place before new swarms emerge,” the U.N. officials said, noting that to date only $33 million has been received or committed.

Experts have warned that the number of locusts if unchecked could grow 500 times by June, when drier weather is expected in the region.

“WFP has estimated the cost of responding to the impact of locusts on food security alone to be at least 15 times higher than the cost of preventing the spread now,” the U.N. officials said in the statement.

A changing climate has contributed to this outbreak as a warming Indian Ocean means more powerful tropical cyclones hitting the region. A cyclone late last year in Somalia brought heavy rains that fed fresh vegetation to fuel the locusts that were carried in by the wind from the Arabian Peninsula.

Desert locusts have a reproduction cycle of three months, the U.N. officials said, and mature swarms are laying eggs in vast areas of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, “many of which are already hatching.”

“In just a few weeks, the next generation of the pests will transition from their juvenile stage and take wing in a renewed frenzy of destructive swarm activity,” the joint statement said.

This is a time when farmers’ crops begin to sprout, which could devastate East Africa’s most important crop of the year, the U.N. officials said.

“But that doesn’t have to happen,” they said. “The window of opportunity is still open. The time to act is now.”


Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations

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Chapek takes over…

Bob Iger is assuming the role of executive chairman and will lead the board through his contract’s end on Dec. 31, 2021.

It’s the end of an era at The Walt Disney Company.

In a seismic move, the conglomerate said on Tuesday that it is naming Bob Chapek as its next CEO, succeeding Bob Iger immediately. Iger is assuming the role of executive chairman and will lead the board through his contract’s end on Dec. 31, 2021.

Chapek, who has been with the company since 1993, has been chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products since 2018. His new contract began on Feb. 24 and ends on Feb. 28, 2023, with his annual base salary increasing to $2,500,000.

Chapek, who will become Disney’s 7th CEO, will report to Iger and the board of directors. On a conference call with Wall Street analysts Tuesday, Iger said that the Disney board had identified Chapek as his potential successor “quite some time ago.”

“[The succession plan] was not accelerated for any particular reason other than we thought the need was now to make this change,” Iger said on the call.

“I am incredibly honored and humbled to assume the role of CEO of what I truly believe is the greatest company in the world, and to lead our exceptionally talented and dedicated cast members and employees,” Chapek said.

Chapek noted, “Bob Iger has built Disney into the most admired and successful media and entertainment company, and I have been lucky to enjoy a front-row seat as a member of his leadership team.”

Since Iger took over as CEO of Disney in 2005, he has presided over a period of dramatic expansion for the company, leading acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm. In 2019 alone, Disney had an unprecedented seven blockbusters hit the $1 billion mark at the box office globally. 

And, in March 2019, Iger presided over the closing of Disney’s biggest acquisition: the $71.3 billion megadeal for Rupert Murdoch’s Fox assets, including the historic 20th Century Fox studio and Fox Searchlight. Iger’s compensation package was $47.5 million for the last fiscal year. 

“The company has gotten larger and more complex in the recent 12 months,” Iger told analysts on the call Tuesday. “With the asset base in place, and our strategy essentially deployed, I felt that I should spend as much time as possible with the creative side as our businesses… because that becomes our biggest priority in 2021.”

Iger, who joined Disney in 1996, added that he will spend time dealing with all of Disney’s creative endeavors, including at Hulu and Disney+. 

“My goal is that when I leave here [Chapek] will be as steeped with all matters creative at the company as I am today,” Iger said.

“Bob, I feel very fortunate to be able to work closely with you during this transition, and I know I will be able to benefit greatly from your wisdom and expertise,” Chapek said on the call, adding that he will “embrace the same strategic pillars” that Iger championed.

Amid competition from Netflix, Iger prioritized the conglomerate’s efforts on its own direct to consumer platforms, leading to the acquisition of streaming tech provider BAMTech in 2017 and the launch of the Disney+ platform on Nov. 12 last year. 

Iger succession speculation has intensified in recent years as the executive mulled the idea of running for president in 2017 and then last year embarked on a media blitz for his memoir The Ride of a Lifetime.

Iger added in a statement on Tuesday, “I have the utmost confidence in Bob and look forward to working closely with him over the next 22 months as he assumes this new role and delves deeper into Disney’s multifaceted global businesses and operations, while I continue to focus on the Company’s creative endeavors.”

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