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

Senate Democrats warn of G.O.P. effort to restrict abortion nationwide

May 10, 2022

Democrats rang alarm bells on Sunday, May 8, about the likelihood that Republicans would try to restrict abortion nationwide, two days after an interview was published in which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said a ban was “possible” if his party gained control in Washington, D.C., reports The New York Times.

On the Sunday talk shows and in other public statements, Democratic senators said Republicans would not stop at letting the states decide the issue, but would most likely push for federal restrictions. That made it paramount, they said, that the Democratic Party maintain control of the Senate as it tries to codify abortion rights into federal law.

“We need to make sure that every single voter understands that the Republican Party and Mitch McConnell does not believe that their daughters, that their mothers, that their sisters have rights to make fundamental life and death decisions,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We are half-citizens under this ruling. And if this is put into law, it changes the foundation of America.”

After a leaked draft decision indicated that the Supreme Court was poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that established a constitutional right to abortion, McConnell said in an interview with USA Today that a national abortion ban was “possible” if that draft document became an official opinion of the court.

“If the leaked opinion became the final opinion, legislative bodies—not only at the state level but at the federal level—certainly could legislate in that area,” McConnell said when asked if a national abortion ban was “worthy of debate.”

McConnell argued that the discussion about a federal ban was premature, but that it was clear that the Republican Party has long been opposed to abortion.

Discussions already are underway among some Republican senators about pushing to ban abortion after a certain number of weeks, ranging from six to 20, depending on the proposal.

“If and when the court makes a final decision, I expect everybody will be more definitive,” McConnell said. “But I don’t think it’s much secret where Senate Republicans stand on that issue.”

Indeed, the Times reports, a document circulated by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and obtained by Axios urged candidates to be low key about abortion, casting themselves as “compassionate consensus builders” with a post-Roe America looming as early as next month.

“States should have the flexibility to implement reasonable restrictions,” the document states.

Research contact: @nytimes

U.S. Intelligence helped Ukraine strike Russian flagship, officials say

May 9, 2022

The United States provided intelligence that helped Ukrainian forces to locate and strike the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet last month—another sign that the Administration is easing its self-imposed limitations on how far it will go in helping Ukraine fight Russia, U.S. officials told The New York Times.

The targeting help, which contributed to the eventual sinking of the flagship, the Moskva, is part of a continuing classified effort by the Biden Administration to provide real-time battlefield intelligence to Ukraine, the Times said.

That intelligence also includes sharing anticipated Russian troop movements, gleaned from a recent American assessment of Moscow’s battle plan for the fighting in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, the officials said.

The Administration has sought to keep much of the battlefield and maritime intelligence it is sharing with the Ukrainians secret out of fear it will be seen as an escalation and provoke President Vladimir Putin of Russia into a wider war. But in recent weeks, the United States has sped heavier weapons to Ukraine;  and  requested an extraordinary $33 billion in additional military, economic, and humanitarian aid from Congress, demonstrating how quickly American restraints on support for Ukraine are shifting.

Two senior American officials said that Ukraine already had obtained the Moskva’s targeting data on its own, and that the United States provided only confirmation. But other officials said the American intelligence was crucial to Ukraine’s sinking of the ship.

The U.S. intelligence help in striking the Moskva was reported earlier by NBC News.

On April 13, Ukrainian forces on the ground fired two Neptune missiles, striking the Moskva and igniting a fire that eventually led to the sinking of the warship.

Attention also has focused on whether the aging ship’s radar systems were working properly. Ukrainian and U.S. officials said the Moskva was possibly distracted by Ukraine’s deploying of a Turkish-made Bayraktar unmanned drone nearby.

Immediately after the strike, Biden Administration officials were scrupulously silent, declining to confirm even that the Moskva had been struck. But in recent days, American officials confirmed that targeting data from American intelligence sources was provided to Ukraine in the hours before the Neptune missiles were launched.

Russia has denied Ukrainian missiles played any role in the Moskva’s demise, claiming instead that an onboard fire caused a munitions explosion that doomed the ship. Independent Russian news outlets based outside the country have reported that about 40 men died and an additional 100 were injured when the warship was damaged and sank.

Research contact: @nytimes

Watchdog: Trump’s DHS delayed and altered report on Russian interference in 2020 election

May 6, 2022

Former President Donald Trump’s Department of Homeland Security delayed and altered an intelligence report related to Russian interference in the 2020 election—making changes that “appear to be based in part on political considerations,”  according to a newly released watchdog report.

The April 26 Homeland Security inspector general’s assessment provides a damning look at the way DHS’ Office of Intelligence and Analysis dealt with intelligence related to Russia’s efforts to interfere in the United States, stating the department had deviated from its standard procedures in modifying, assessments related to Moscow’s targeting of the 2020 presidential election, reports CNN.

The conclusion that Trump’s appointee appeared to have tried to downplay Russian meddling in a key intelligence report is the latest example of how his aides managed his aversion to any information about how Russia might be helping his election prospects. According to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, Trump officials tried to avoid the topic during meetings and at hearings, because he would become enraged and upset when Russian meddling came up.

The U.S. intelligence community announced during the 2020 campaign that Russia was actively meddling in the election to weaken then-candidate Joe Biden. At the time, Trump downplayed those findings and promoted false claims about Biden that aligned with Russia’s disinformation efforts. The IG report addresses past suspicions that Trump appointees distorted some intelligence reports to foster a more Trump-friendly narrative.

The watchdog found, for example, that then-Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf had participated in the review process “multiple times despite lacking any formal role in reviewing the product,” which caused delays and may have helped create the “perception” that assessments were changed for political reasons.

“We determined that the Acting Secretary’s involvement led to the rare occurrence of I&A ceasing dissemination of a product after it had already been approved by the mission manager and circulated via advanced notification,” the report states.

“The delays and deviation from I&A’s standard process and requirements put I&A at risk of creating a perception of politicization. This conclusion is supported by I&A’s own tradecraft assessment, which determined that the product might be viewed as politicized,” it continues.

The report stems from previous allegations that the Trump Administration downplaying Russian interference. CNN first reported in September 2020 a whistleblower complaint alleging that top political appointees in DHS repeatedly instructed career officials to modify intelligence assessments to suit Trump’s agenda by downplaying Russia’s efforts to interfere in the United States.

The whistleblower claimed that Wolf had instructed DHS officials to “cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference” and, instead, focus their efforts on gathering information related to activities being carried out by China and Iran.

Research contact: @CNN

Roe v. Wade may be overturned, a leaked draft of Supreme Court opinion reveals

May 4, 2022

A leaked Supreme Court draft opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito  and  published late Monday by Politico  indicates that the court may be preparing to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 precedent that established a constitutional right to an abortion, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The draft, dated from February, couldn’t be independently confirmed, but legal observers said it appeared to be authentic. On Tuesday, May 2, Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the draft was authentic and launched an investigation into the leak, according to a report by HuffPost.

According to the Journal, the 67-page opinion, marked as a first draft, declared that Roe was “egregiously wrong and deeply damaging,” and that Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a 1992 decision that limited but didn’t eliminate abortion rights, prolonged the court’s error.

“Abortion presents a profound moral question. The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion,” the draft opinion said. “Roe and Casey arrogated that authority. We now overrule those decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives.”

The draft does not necessarily represent the court’s ultimate decision in the case or even the majority’s current thinking. However, it is consistent with the tenor of December’s oral arguments in the case challenging Roe, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organizationconcerning Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks. The draft was labeled the opinion of the court—implying that a majority of justices had agreed with it.

The apparent leak represents a nearly unheard of breach of the court’s private, behind-the-scenes deliberations on a blockbuster case that the court hasn’t yet publicly issued. It also could threaten longstanding bonds of trust on a court that has already been under ideological and personal strains.

After an initial vote among justices on a case, Supreme Court decisions can undergo considerable evolution in tone and substance as justices circulate draft opinions for weeks and months. Those drafts are circulated between chambers—with justices typically offering feedback, support, and criticism in writing—until the court arrives at a final ruling, which is frequently accompanied by concurring and dissenting opinions that weigh in on the court’s holding.

Given those internal processes, it’s possible that there are more recent versions of the decision that look different than the draft Politico published. And on occasions, justices can change their positions during deliberations.

The court’s decision has been expected by the end of June or early July.

Research contact: @WSJ