Georgia’s top elections official, Brad Raffensberger, claims primary win despite Trump’s wrath

May 26, 2022

Georgia’s top elections official, Brad Raffensperger, proved on May 25 that a low-key Republican can stand up to former President Donald Trump and still come out on top, reports The Daily Beast.

Indeed, according to the Beast, the Republican secretary of state overcame the odds and won Tuesday’s primary race—beating two Big Lie conspiracy theorists who tried to make him pay for standing by the real 2020 election results.

Raffensperger’s ability to bat away contenders—and even avoid a run-off election—shows that he is still riding high on his moment of triumph last year, when he became a hero to Democrats and moderate Republicans for resisting Trump’s menacing pleas to overturn election results in Georgia.

Although Representative Jody Hice (R-Georgia) received a massive boost from  Trump’s endorsement, the traditionally conservative Raffensperger now forges ahead against a Democrat in November.

In Georgia, primary candidates need to win a majority to avoid a runoff. According to state data Tuesday evening, Raffensperger narrowly pulled off the feat. With 89% of precincts across the state reporting in results, Raffensperger just barely pulled ahead with 52%.

The Daily Beast spoke to Raffensperger at his election night party on Tuesday night at a restaurant in Atlanta’s northern suburb of Peachtree Corners, where the mood was buoyant. When asked about how Hice and Belle Isle had based much of their challenge on the 2020 election dispute, Raffensperger told The Daily Beast he thought it was all hot air and pandering.

“Have them put their hands on the Bible, and they’ll do a 180,” he said.

Later that night, he and his elections team—which included campaign supervisor Jordan Fuchs—jointly decided to declare victory and pop bottles of champagne just before midnight. Close supporters and state agency employees could be heard making toasts to “integrity.”

“To democracy,” said Noula Zaharis, a regulator at the secretary of state’s office who oversees securities and charities.

Research contact: @thedailybeast

Pentagon devises plans to send troops to protect U.S. Embassy in Kyiv

May 25, 2022

Plans to send U.S. forces back into Ukraine to guard the recently reopened American Embassy in Kyiv are “underway at a relatively low level,” General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced on May 23, reports The Hill.

The Wall Street Journal first mentioned on Sunday that officials are mulling plans to send special forces to Kyiv to guard the U.S. Embassy. The effort is a delicate one, as it requires balancing the safety of American diplomats while avoiding what Russia could see as an escalation.

“Some of the things that may have been out there in the media, those are planning efforts that are underway at a relatively low level,” Milley told reporters at the Pentagon, seeming to refer to the Journal’s report.

Such plans “have not yet made it to [Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin] or myself for that matter, for refinement of courses of action and what’s needed,” he noted. 

Milley added that any reintroduction of U.S. forces into Ukraine would require a presidential decision.  

“We’re a ways away from anything like that. We’re still developing courses of action, and none of that has been presented yet to the secretary,” he said.  

The Biden Administration last week reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv after closing it ahead of Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

The embassy’s security currently comes from the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, the Journal reported.

President Joe Biden has pledged consistently that no U.S. troops will be sent into Ukraine to help forces there, although there are thousands of service members based just outside its borders in countries including Poland and Romania.

Milley said there are now about 102,000 American troops based in Europe—a more than 30% increase since the war began.

“Last fall the United States military had about 78,000 in [U.S. European Command]—Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Space Force,” Milley said. “In a few short months, we bolstered that by over 30%.”

Rsearch contact: @thehill

January 6 panel presses GOP lawmaker about Capitol tour

May 23, 2022

On May 19, the leaders of the House special committee investigating the January. 6 attack on the Capitol asked a Republican congressman to submit to questioning about a tour of the complex that he allegedly gave one day before the riot—saying they were looking into whether rioters had conducted reconnaissance of the building before the rampage, reports The New York Times.

In a Thursday letter to Representative Barry Loudermilk (R-Georgia), the top two members of the panel said investigators had obtained evidence that the Georgia Republican had led a tour through parts of the Capitol complex on January 5, 2021, when it was closed to visitors because of pandemic restrictions. Loudermilk has denied having led any “reconnaissance” tour.

“Public reporting and witness accounts indicate some individuals and groups engaged in efforts to gather information about the layout of the U.S. Capitol, as well as the House and Senate office buildings, in advance of January 6, 2021,” said a letter to Loudermilk from Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chairman of the panel, and Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming and the vice chairwoman.

They did not directly allege that any person escorted by Loudermilk later attacked the Capitol. But they suggested that they had obtained evidence that he had led visitors around the complex, writing that their review of evidence “directly contradicts” Republicans’ denials that closed-circuit security camera footage showed no such tours had taken place.

In a statement, Loudermilk conceded that he had brought constituents into parts of the Capitol complex the day before the riot, but he said the visit had been innocuous.

“A constituent family with young children meeting with their Member of Congress in the House office buildings is not a suspicious group or ‘reconnaissance tour.’ The family never entered the Capitol building,” Loudermilk wrote in a joint statement with Representative Rodney Davis of Illinois, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee, adding: “No place that the family went on the 5th was breached on the 6th, the family did not enter the Capitol grounds on the 6th, and no one in that family has been investigated or charged in connection to January 6th.”

The statement did not say whether Loudermilk would agree to meet with the panel to discuss the matter.

Research contact: @nytimes

New York’s new congressional maps would place five pairs of incumbents in the same districts

May 20, 2022

A new set of draft maps for New York’s congressional districts were released on May 16—upending several potential races and sending candidates scurrying to reset their campaigns or reconsider their plans to run, reports Politico.

The maps for New York’s 26 congressional districts will play an instrumental role in whether Democrats can retain control of the House in the midterm elections—and the latest maps, drawn by a special master after a successful court case by Republicans, would pit several Democrats against one another.

 The maps would create five districts that contain the homes of multiple incumbents, potentially setting the stage for several high-profile battles for August and November. Those include a battle for parts of Manhattan between Democratic veteran Representatives Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney.

 Nadler ripped the proposed lines, but added that “provided that they become permanent, I very much look forward to running in and representing the people of the newly created 12th District of New York.”

 

Indeed, the draft lines create a lot more competition than what had previously been expected. Maps drawn by Democrats in February would have made their party the favorite in 22 of the state’s 26 seats, with only a small handful of the seats having even the potential for upsets. Those were thrown out by New York’s top court last month, and the mapmaking process has since been handed to Steuben County Supreme Court Justice Patrick McAllister and special master Jonathan Cervas, a fellow at Carnegie Mellon. 
The maps proposed by Cervas would lead to 21 districts where Democrats would have an edge based on their performance in past elections. But that edge is extremely slim in at least five of these seats, leading to multiple races that will likely be considered toss-ups. In a couple of others, a Republican upset is far from implausible.
Cervas’ plans are not final. There is now a brief public comment period before he releases binding maps on Friday, May 20. 
If the maps stand, even when incumbents were drawn into the same seats, they could very well opt against running against each other. Members of Congress do not need to reside in the districts they represent, so there could well be a few members who decide to stay put, but run for office a couple of miles down the road. 
But unless the plans released Friday contain major overhauls, it’s clear that there will be numerous free-for-alls in New York in the coming months, featuring several seats that had been on few peoples’ radars into hotly competitive races.

 Research contact: @politico

One and done: Representative Madison Cawthorn loses North Carolina GOP primary

May 19, 2022

It’s one term and done for controversial Representative Madison Cawthorn. The 26-year-old right-wing firebrand was beaten by North Carolina State Senator Chuck Edwards in the May 17 Republican primary contest for the right to represent the solid-red 11th Congressional District, reports the New York Post.

Edwards topped the embattled Cawthorn by a razor-thin margin Tuesday, with 33% of the vote over Cawthorn’s 31%. Edwards, who called himself a Washington outsider, cleared the 30% threshold needed to avoid a July runoff—and Cawthorn has conceded.

According to the Post, Cawthorn had drawn the ire of his fellow Republicans over several controversial statements—including claims that lawmakers had invited him to orgies and snorted cocaine in front of him.

Cawthorn was viewed as a rising star in the GOP when he won the election in 2020 to replace then-Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, but a series of public missteps dogged his first term in office.

In March, Cawthorn called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a “thug” in charge of an “incredibly evil” government. The lawmaker was also twice arrested trying to carry a gun on an airplane and has been accused by a former aide of denying her emergency leave after her husband suffered a heart attack.

But what really outraged Cawthorn’s Capitol Hill colleagues were comments he made on a podcast in late March that likened Congress to the fictional TV series “House of Cards.”

“The sexual perversion that goes on in Washington, I mean, being kind of a young guy in Washington, where the average age is probably 60 or 70—[you] look at all these people, a lot of them that I’ve looked up to through my life … Then all of a sudden you get invited. ‘We’re going to have a sexual get-together at one of our homes, you should come.’

“‘What did you just ask me to come to?’ And then you realize they’re asking you to come to an orgy,” he said, later adding: “You watch them do a bump of cocaine right in front of you, and it’s like, ‘This is wild.’”

That earned Cawthorn a scolding from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California), who told reporters the North Carolinian had “lost my trust” and would “have to earn it back.”

One Republican who stuck by Cawthorn was former President Donald Trump, who issued a special appeal Tuesday on his Truth Social platform.

“When Madison was first elected to Congress, he did a great job,” the 45th president wrote. “Recently, he made some foolish mistakes, which I don’t believe he’ll make again … let’s give Madison a second chance.”

Research contact: @nypost

In wake of Buffalo shooting, Liz Cheney says House GOP leaders ‘enabled white nationalism’

May 18, 2022

Top Republicans in the House of Representatives are facing new scrutiny, as critics, including some within their own party, contend that they have failed to condemn the racist rhetoric espoused by the suspected gunman who killed ten Black people at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket on Saturday, May 14, reports ABC News.

A far-right conspiracy known as the “great replacement theory”—which contends that white Americans are intentionally being replaced by minorities and immigrants—was included in a 180-page screed posted online by the alleged shooter.

On Monday, May 16, Republican Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a frequent critic of her own party, singled out what she called a parallel between those beliefs and the behavior of some fellow conservatives.

“The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism,” she wrote in a tweet. “History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse. @GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.”

Cheney was notably replaced last year from her number-three post in the House’s Republican leadership after saying she would “not sit back and watch in silence” as former President Donald Trump continued to falsely claim he won the presidential election.

In the wake of the Buffalo shooting, New York Republican Representative Elise Stefanik, Cheney’s successor, has become a primary target of criticism over how members of the GOP have voiced ideas similar to “replacement theory.”

“Radical Democrats are planning their most aggressive move yet: a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION. Their plan to grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington,” Stefanik said in a Facebook ad for her reelection, which launched last August. According to Facebook, the ad, pushed out repeatedly, reached hundreds of thousands of people.

When Stefanik first tweeted condolences to her home state on Saturday, Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, the only other House Republican to sit on the January 6 select committee with Cheney, said in a tweet, “Did you know: @EliseStefanik pushes white replacement theory?”

Fueling the criticism on social media was a 2021 editorial from Stefanik’s hometown newspaper, The Albany Times Union, which blasted her last September in a piece titled “How low, Miss Stefanik?”

According to the ABC News report, the Times Union editorial board had focused on Stefanik’s “despicable” Facebook ads, which echoed elements of “replacement theory.” Her ads didn’t mention the conspiracy theory by name, but they insisted, in part, that Democrats were looking to grant citizenship to immigrants who entered the country illegally in order to somehow gain an enduring majority—or, in Stefanik’s words, a “permanent election insurrection.”

With the piece recirculating on social media in the wake of the shooting, Stefanik and her team are pushing back on the renewed focus on her campaign ads.

Her office said Monday that making any link between her past comments and the shooting was a “new disgusting low” for Democrats and “Never Trump” Republicans as well as the media.

“Despite sickening and false reporting, Congresswoman Stefanik has never advocated for any racist position or made a racist statement,” Alex DeGrasse, a senior adviser, said in a statement. “The shooting was an act of evil and the criminal should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he added.

Stefanik, DeGrasse said, “opposes mass amnesty for illegal immigrants …. She strongly supports legal immigration and is one of the national leaders credited with diversifying the Republican Party through candidate recruitment and messaging.”

What’s more, Stefanik isn’t the only House Republican who has claimed there is a movement to “replace” voters. Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) delivered an explicit endorsement of the conspiracy last September.

Gaetz tweeted that Fox News host Tucker Carlson—who has said he believes “the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate”—is “CORRECT about Replacement Theory as he explains what is happening to America;” and called the Anti-Defamation League, which called on Carlson to resign, a “racist organization.”

ABC News previously reported that evidence points to the Buffalo shooting being a calculated, racially-motivated execution by the suspect, an 18-year-old white man, according to multiple sources and a review of FBI cases and testimony. The teen gunman allegedly wanted a race war and livestreamed his attack in an apparent effort to spur others to kill minorities, sources said.

The FBI is investigating the mass shooting as a hate crime and a case of “racially motivated violent extremism” after Erie County Sheriff John Garcia described the attack as a “straight-up racially motivated hate crime.”

The suspect has pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder and is being held without bail.

Research contact: @abcnews

Putin ominously warns Sweden of Russian ‘response’ if it joins NATO alongside Finland

May 17, 2022

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said on Monday, May 16, that her nation will formally apply to join NATO; in unity with Finland, which had stated its intentions the day before.

Her announcement came shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that there will be consequences that “could be nuclear” if both countries join forces with the North Atlantic alliance, reports Forbes.

Andersson confirmed Sweden’s NATO bid a day after Finnish President Sauli Niinisto  announced  his country’s intention to join the alliance.

Speaking at a meeting in Moscow earlier Monday with several Kremlin-aligned leaders, Putin said Sweden and Finland joining NATO would “certainly provoke our response” according to Reuters’ translation  of his comments.

According to Forbes, Finland and Sweden’s NATO bids break a long history of neutrality for the Nordic countries in a move that would add a significant land border between Russia and the military alliance—and represent a major fallout from Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, which Putin said was due to NATO’s increasing eastern presence.

Putin did not specify on Monday what Russia may do, should its Nordic neighbors join NATO, saying Russia “will see what threats are created for us,” according to Reuters.

Although Putin didn’t say Monday, the Kremlin has previously suggested it may respond to Finland and Sweden’s NATO potential accession with nuclear weapons.

Last month, Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s former president and the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said Russia may deploy nuclear weapons in the Baltic Sea, should Finland and Sweden join NATO—and a presenter on the state-run Russia-1 television station said on May 15 that Russia will have “no choice” but to deploy nuclear weapons to “neutralize” the threat, according to the BBC’s translation.

Putin said Monday he has “no problem” with Finland and Sweden and that the two joining NATO doesn’t pose a “direct threat” to Russia, The New York Times reported.

Putin’s statement strays from the Kremlin’s prior comments about the countries’ NATO bids, as the Russian Foreign Ministry said last week that the move would threaten to upend the “stability and security” of Northern Europe, indicating the Russian government is on its back foot following the historic applications from Finland and Sweden.

Research contact: @Forbes

Mike Pence to campaign for Georgia Governor Brian Kemp ahead of primary

May 16, 2022

Former Vice President Mike Pence will rally support for Georgia Governor Brian Kemp as the Republican incumbent seeks to fend off a May 24 primary challenge from Donald Trump-backed former Senator David Perdue.

CNN reports that the decision by Pence to campaign for one of Trump’s top GOP targets marks yet  another break with his former boss, after saying earlier this year that the former president was “wrong” in his belief that Pence could have overturned the results of the 2020 election.

Pence will rally with Kemp on Monday, May 16, a day before the Republican primary, which has turned into a proxy fight between the establishment and Trump wings of the GOP.

“Brian Kemp is one of the most successful conservative governors in America,” Pence said in a statement released Friday. “Brian Kemp is my friend, a man dedicated to faith, family, and the people of Georgia. I am proud to offer my full support for four more years of Brian Kemp as governor of the great state of Georgia!”

Kemp said in a statement on Friday, May 13, that he and his family are “honored” to have Pence’s support and touted his leadership as vice president. Marc Short, Pence’s former chief of staff, is a senior adviser on Kemp’s campaign.

Trump has repeatedly criticized Kemp for his role in certifying Georgia’s 2020 election results and has claimed that Republicans would stay home in November if the governor is the party’s nominee. Perdue has centered his campaign on lies about the 2020 election results in Georgia and has called Kemp a “weak” leader.

Despite the attacks from Trump and Perdue, Kemp has maintained a lead in the polls. And while there is frustration among many Republicans over Kemp certifying the 2020 election in Georgia for President Joe Biden; some voters who back Perdue have said that, even if he loses the primary, they would still back the incumbent governor in the fall.

Pence is not the only high-profile Republican bolstering support for Kemp. Governors Pete Ricketts of Nebraska and Doug Ducey of Arizona, as well as former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie—all of whom have clashed with Trump— will also campaign for Kemp ahead of the Georgia primary, a source familiar with the plans previously told CNN.

Ricketts and Ducey are co-chairs of the Republican Governors Association, which has poured money into the race to support Kemp, including a large TV ad buy in the state.

Pence, who in the past loyally aligned himself with Trump and his political movement, has increasingly taken on the former President in public—most notably on the 2020 election, but also in regard to other matters, such as Trump’s praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Research contact: @CNN

NY Governor to direct $35 million to support abortion providers statewide

May 12, 2022

Governor Kathy Hochul  has announced that New York State will invest tens of millions of dollars toward abortion care and providers with the prospect of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning  Roe v. Wadelooming, following the leak of a draft opinion indicating that would happen, reports New York Magazine.

On Tuesday, May 10, Hochul revealed that $35 million will be allocated to the cause statewide. She is directing the state health department to create an abortion-provider fund which will receive $25 million in funding to later distribute to those who provide abortion care. The governor says the money will come from the health commissioner’s emergency fund, so the funding won’t need to be reallocated for that purpose.

The remaining $10 million will be disbursed by the Division of Criminal Justice Services as “safety and security capital grants” to help bolster the security at reproductive-health clinics and other abortion providers and to secure the safety of their patients and staff.

The distribution of the funds would begin as soon as an official decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is reached and announced by the Supreme Court.

“To truly ensure that anyone seeking an abortion in New York has access to that, we have to ensure that the providers have the resources and the capacity to accommodate all patients who walk through their doors,” Hochul said during a  virtual press conference. “It’s simple. If we’re going to guarantee the right to an abortion, we have to guarantee access to an abortion.”

Hochul called the abortion-provider fund “nation-leading” and the first fund of its kind in the State of New York.

“We’re not playing defense. We’re playing offense,” Hochul said.

Hochul’s announcement comes a day after state Attorney General Letitia James declared her support for  legislation  that would establish a state program to expand abortion access for low-income New Yorkers and also for those traveling to New York from another state seeking care.

Research contact: @NYMag

Democrats test a midterm strategy: Meddling in G.O.P. governor’s races

May 11, 2022

Democrats are investing millions of dollars to meddle in Republican primaries for governor—either to elevate their preferred competitors in November or toweaken their biggest threats, reports NBC News.

Next week’s messy G.O.P. battle in Pennsylvania is the most blatant example. State Senator Doug Mastriano (R) is ahead in recent polls—and his would-be Democratic opponent wouldn’t mind if it stayed that way.

Democrat Josh Shapiro, the state attorney general running unopposed in his party’s primary for governor, is airing an ad that brandishes Mastriano’s conservative credentials, making sure to say a Mastriano victory is a win “for what Donald Trump stands for.” That’s all but an endorsement in a GOP primary, but it could hurt later in a race where even some Republicans have doubts about Mastriano’s electability.

That a Democrat is behind the ad underscores the lengths to which the party will go to engineer an easier general election in what’s expected to be a volatile environment this fall.

“Both public and private polling indicate that Doug Mastriano is poised to become the Republican nominee on May 17—and our campaign is prepared to start the general election now and make sure Pennsylvanians know his real record,” Shapiro spokesperson Will Simons said in a statement to NBC News.

Shapiro’s efforts mirror those by the Democratic Governors Association and affiliated groups that could hamstring Republicans in three other states currently led by Democrats.

As of Monday, according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact, the DGA had already spent $4 million on advertising in Illinois, where the organization is attacking Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin. Backed by hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, Irvin is seen by many as Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker’s toughest potential rival, but he must first win a crowded June 28 primary.

In Nevada, the group, A Stronger NV, which registered with the state using the DGA’s telephone number in Washington, D.C., already had spent $500,000 on ads, with at least another $111,000 reserved through the June 14 primary. There, Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak and allies of his re-election bid are focused hard on Joe Lombardo—the Clark County sheriff who has Trump’s endorsement and is leading a crowded GOP field that includes former Sen. Dean Heller and retired professional boxer Joey Gilbert, who has the state party’s endorsement.

“If he doesn’t make it through the primary, then we’ve knocked out what is seen as the front-runner,” a Democrat familiar with the DGA strategy said of Lombardo.

And although the strategy doesn’t involve a primary, an Oregon group backed by DGA donations is preparing a campaign that will brand nonaffiliated gubernatorial hopeful Betsy Johnson—until recently a Democratic state senator— as a conservative.

The early interference amounts to what Democrats see as a viable path to keeping their statehouses blue as they enter a tumultuous campaign season during which inflation and gas prices are on the rise and President Joe Biden’s favorability is stubbornly low.

Of the four states where the DGA is playing defense, Pennsylvania and Nevada are expected to be the most competitive this fall, with Illinois and Oregon being harder lifts for Republicans. But, buoyed by a bloc of deep red counties downstate Illinois, well-funded Republicans have managed to win statewide. Whether the Democrats are pushing the right buttons to be victorious in the general elections remains to be seen.

Research contact: @NBCNews