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As 2020 Ends, Let's Remember The Politics Of It All – NPR



NPR’s Don Gonyea talks with Mark Barabak of The Los Angeles Times, Kathleen Gray of The New York Times and Holly Bailey of The Washington Post about covering politics during a year like none other.


2020 has been a year like no other, and that’s really been true of politics. We went through a contentious election that underscored and reinforced, really, just how divided the country is. And we continue to live with the political fallout over how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. And the holidays have offered no break, really. But this is the last weekend in December. So we wanted to take this time to look back at the political landscape of 2020. We’re going to do that with three journalists who’ve been on the ground, talking to voters across the country all year as they covered 2020. I’m joined now by Holly Bailey. She’s the national political correspondent for The Washington Post. She’s been reporting from Minneapolis. Holly, welcome.

HOLLY BAILEY: Thank you.

GONYEA: Mark Barabak covers state and national politics for the Los Angeles Times, but you might find him anywhere in the U.S. Mark, welcome to you as well.


GONYEA: And last but certainly not least, New York Times correspondent Kathleen Gray. She is based in Michigan. Kathleen, welcome.


GONYEA: So I want to actually start with a story that we’re in the middle of right now so I guess some current news. Today, December 26, expanded government unemployment benefits end for millions of Americans. On top of that, the moratorium on evictions will also expire at the end of the year. That’s just a few days from now unless, of course, the president signs the $900 billion COVID relief bill. We know he does not like that COVID relief bill. All year, each of you has been hearing people express their worries, their concerns. What is your sense of things as all of these deadlines come to a head with the president and the Congress still at odds?

Mark Barabak, let’s start with you. You’re in California. What are you hearing from people?

BARABAK: You know, people in Washington – I don’t know if they really appreciate the effect they’re having on people’s lives, people who can’t pay the rent, people who can’t put food on the table, who are suffering. And the strange thing and I guess you could say the ironic thing is it really does come down to this one man, Donald Trump, who was elected to cut through all of this dysfunction. And instead, again, you had huge majorities of Democrats, Republicans passes. It comes down to one man and his obstinacy. And all it does is reinforce everything people feel about Washington being a dysfunctional place that doesn’t care about them and doesn’t address the needs in their lives.

GONYEA: Kathleen, the view from metropolitan Detroit where you are?

GRAY: Well, I spoke with a food bank right before Christmas, Gleaners Food Bank in Michigan. And they give out 6 million pounds of food a month. And 3 million of those pounds comes from a federal program that was created in the first CARES Act. And so all of a sudden, this food bank is 3 million pounds short a month of food to give out. These agencies are starting to get calls from people who are worried that they’re going to get kicked out at the end of the year because the moratorium comes on.

Now, Michigan has done a little bit. They approved of $465 million COVID relief bill last week, and they’ve extended unemployment – state unemployment in Michigan to the tune of $200 million. So there is some relief, but it’s certainly not coming from the feds.

GONYEA: And, Holly, how about you in Minneapolis there?

BAILEY: There’s a lot of concern. I mean, all around Minnesota, not just in the Twin Cities but even in rural parts of the state, you’re seeing tent cities pop up in small towns where people don’t often see homeless camps like that. And it’s just – a lot of people are very, very worried about what happens, not just after, you know, Christmas with coronavirus but all these people who have been depending on this – on these checks. What are they going to do after this?

GONYEA: All of us, myself included, are national political correspondents. We spend our time trying to find people to talk to us and to cajole them into talking to us, if necessary. And that got harder this year because of the pandemic. But I found myself so appreciative of anybody who would be willing to share their thoughts with me over the course of the year. Maybe just some quick thoughts on that notion. Kathleen, you first.

GRAY: Well, probably early on in the summer – I think it was maybe June or something – I went out to Belle Isle, which is an isle in the middle of the Detroit River, and sat and talked with a couple for about an hour. And I asked them about the election. And they told me they weren’t going to vote because their vote didn’t matter anymore, that it just had no consequence in their life. And that – those two people really stuck with me throughout the election as I talked with people. And I talked with them, afterwards. And they didn’t vote because they really didn’t think their vote mattered, you know? There’s so many people who feel disenfranchised by the political system. And that’s especially true in Detroit. Turnout in Detroit, I think, was about 52%, so there’s still 48% of the people in Detroit who just don’t think that their vote counts.

GONYEA: Holly, you’ve been based in Minneapolis for months. You’ve been reporting on the coronavirus and the presidential campaign but also on police reform in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. Any thoughts just on what it was like to do your job this year?

BAILEY: You know, the spot where George Floyd was killed has become sort of this unofficial memorial. It’s still blocked off to street – to car traffic. And one of the things that I found sort of inspiring is that there were a lot of people who – in that neighborhood who had not voted before. And people were at that spot registering people to vote. They were en masse. They were trying to do it socially distanced. And I remember, you know, just seeing people, around Election Day and during early voting, returning to that site and putting their I Voted stickers on one of the signs marking the spot where George Floyd was killed. And it was, you know, quite an emotional thing, I think, for a lot of people there.

GONYEA: Mark, any thoughts on that?

BARABAK: Yeah, I set out to do a piece, you know? Early on. I wanted to do a story about President Trump and senior voters who polls suggested were drifting away from him. So I ended up talking to a number of folks. I was able to write the story. I had some very, very good conversations. But the flip side of it was I was in the midst of a conversation. And, you know, I’m sure, like, all of us got the, you know, I don’t talk to the fake news or what have yous. And some guy’s giving me the side eye. And sure enough, I’m in the middle of an interview, and a manager of this grocery store comes out waving his arms and yelling and threatening, he’s going to call the police if I don’t leave immediately. So there was both the good and the bad.

GONYEA: Yeah, before we let each of you go, we’re approaching the start of a new year and the start of a new administration in the White House. Given that all of you write about national politics from outside the Beltway, I’m curious what people are telling you about what matters to them. Kathleen, you go first.

GRAY: Well, obviously, people are certainly concerned about COVID and the vaccine. And there’s been a little back and forth here in Michigan about, you know, who gets it first. And, you know, do denser population areas get the vaccine first because there’s a better chance for spread in those communities? And that means if it’s a denser population, it’s an urban area, which leans more Democratic. So there’s been a little bit of back and forth on, you know, the more rural people want the COVID vaccine, too. Are they going to get it at the same time as urban folks? So there are just – there’s so many political things that go along with the COVID pandemic. And I am waiting for that to pop come next year.

GONYEA: Mark, what will you be paying attention to during the transition as you look ahead?

BARABAK: It’s very clear, as I said earlier, folks don’t like dysfunction. They also don’t trust one party or the other. They like divided government. I think that was the message of this election. So, you know, the question is – how much can Joe Biden get done? How much will the Republicans work with him? Is this COVID package, which did pass with bipartisan support, an indication of things to come or just kind of a one-off?

GONYEA: And, Holly, the view from the upper Midwest where you are?

BAILEY: I think, you know, one of the things that I’m going to be looking at is just more broadly, you know, Joe Biden’s promise to try to bring calmer days and heal some of this political division that we’re seeing erupt across the country, you know? One of the things that was striking about Minneapolis in the days after the election is that, you know, people did go out in the streets and were cheering a Joe Biden victory. But they were also carrying signs that said, we’re expecting you to act on things, like climate and social justice and criminal justice.

And, you know, there’s so many counties – rural counties were close to the – sort of the Obama-Trump flip counties of Wisconsin that he still did not flip back, even though, you know, Democrats really tried. So it’s going to be really interesting to see – you know, can he win some of these people back while also sort of making some of these Democratic supporters who voted for him happy?

GONYEA: That’s Washington Post national political reporter Holly Bailey. We have also been speaking with New York Times correspondent Kathleen Gray and political reporter Mark Barabak from the Los Angeles Times. Thanks all you guys for talking to us today.

BAILEY: Thank you.

GRAY: Thanks, Don.

BARABAK: Thanks, Don.

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Erin O'Toole moves to shake off the Trumpian taint –



Erin O’Toole’s decision to issue a 595-word statement on Sunday about his political beliefs suggests he’s at least a little worried about his public image.

And he might have good reasons to worry. But the question of what kind of conservative Erin O’Toole wants to be is still difficult to answer.

“If the Liberals want to label me as ‘far right,’ they are welcome to try,” O’Toole said in a statement sent to reporters Sunday morning. “Canadians are smart and they will see this as an attempt to mislead people and import some of the fear and division we have witnessed in the United States.”

The “extreme right” allegation was contained in a fundraising email the Liberal Party sent to its supporters last week. The message was part of a week-long effort by Liberals to link O’Toole’s party with the Trumpian style of politics. The Conservative Party had, for example, previously accused the Liberals of “rigging” the last election. O’Toole, the Liberals noted, campaigned for the party leadership on a pledge to “take back Canada.”

However much O’Toole might want to seem undaunted in the face of Liberal charges, he’s not in a position to assume these attacks will fail. Donald Trump’s politics have been shown to be even more poisonous than previously understood. Anything that sounds even remotely similar to Trump is in danger of being considered unacceptably toxic in Canadian public life.

Pitching for the ‘centre’

But O’Toole’s own image is also vulnerable. At the end of 2020, according to Abacus Data, 28 per cent of Canadians viewed O’Toole negatively, compared to 20 per cent who viewed him favourably. At the end of November, the Angus Reid Institute found a similar deficit: 36 per cent had a favourable opinion of the Conservative leader, 42 per cent had an unfavourable opinion.

Given the threat of a Trumpist stain and the weakness of O’Toole’s brand, some kind of response to the Liberals’ criticism was probably necessary. But simply not being Trump is a poor measure of anything and O’Toole’s weekend statement also points to a more interesting matter for the Conservative leader — defining his approach to conservatism.

Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidates (left to right) Erin O’Toole, Peter MacKay, Derek Sloan and Leslyn Lewis wait for the start of the French Leadership Debate in Toronto on Wednesday, June 17, 2020. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

In his defence, O’Toole touted a number of his beliefs and political positions on Sunday. He has said he wants the Conservative Party to welcome “all Canadians, regardless of race, religion, economic standing, education, or sexual orientation” and to “govern on behalf of all Canadians.”

He says he is pro-choice and believes the party must take inequality “seriously.” He has “lamented the decline of private sector union membership” and “raised the unfairness of the blood ban for gay men.” His first question in the House of Commons as Conservative leader was about reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

“The Conservatives are a moderate, pragmatic, mainstream party — as old as Confederation — that sits squarely in the centre of Canadian politics,” O’Toole said, adding that he would “work tirelessly to restore public confidence in their political leaders and federal institutions.”

The political positions O’Toole described sound quite unlike those commonly associated with Donald Trump. In fact, many of those things might be more commonly associated with liberal or ‘progressive’ politicians.

‘True blue’ vs. ‘mushy middle’

But Sunday’s statement didn’t include O’Toole’s previously stated desire to “fight” to “defend our history, our institutions against attacks from cancel culture and the radical left.” That was an idea that O’Toole put front and centre when he announced his candidacy for the Conservative leadership in January 2020.

In that campaign — which raised questions about O’Toole’s edgier new tone — O’Toole touted himself as the “true blue” Conservative option and suggested that Peter MacKay, the early frontrunner, would turn the Conservative party into “Liberal party lite.” The choice, O’Toole said, would be between running on principles and running toward the “mushy middle.”

During that leadership race, O’Toole was also one of only two members of the party’s Ontario caucus to vote against calling on fellow leadership candidate Derek Sloan to apologize for Sloan’s attack on Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer (Sloan was the other member).

On Monday, after it emerged that Sloan had received a donation from a white nationalist, O’Toole announced that he was moving to eject Sloan from caucus and would prohibit him from running as a Conservative in the next election.

Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Derek Sloan speaks during the English debate in Toronto on Thursday, June 18, 2020. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

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Biden DNI pick says no room for politics in intel agencies – North Shore News



WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the intelligence community, Avril Haines, promised Tuesday to “speak truth to power” and keep politics out of intelligence agencies to ensure their work is trusted.

“When it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics — ever,” she told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Haines, a former CIA deputy director and former deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration, would enter the job as director of national intelligence, or DNI, following a Trump administration that saw repeated pressure on intelligence officials to shape intelligence to the Republican president’s liking.

The committee’s lead Republican, Marco Rubio of Florida, and its ranking Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia, both indicated they expect Haines to win confirmation. Her hearing kicked off a series of Senate confirmation hearings Tuesday, including those for Biden’s picks to lead the State Department, the Pentagon, and the departments of Homeland Security and Treasury. While most of those nominees are unlikely to be confirmed by the time Biden takes the oath of office at noon Wednesday, some could be in place within days.

A former director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, who served in the Trump administration, introduced Haines with an emphasis on her commitment to de-politicizing the job. He called her an “exceptional choice” for the position.

Also testifying Tuesday at his confirmation hearing was Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s nominee for secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He would be the first Latino and first immigrant to lead the agency.

In opening remarks, Mayorkas addressed the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. He said in prepared remarks released ahead of the hearing that the Jan. 6 pro-Trump riot is “horrifying” and the authorities still have much to learn about what happened that day and what led to the insurrection.

The Senate typically confirms some nominees, particularly the secretaries of defence, on Inauguration Day, though raw feelings about President Donald Trump four years ago led to Democratic-caused delays, except for James Mattis at the Pentagon. This year, the tension is heightened by Trump’s impeachment and an extraordinary military presence in Washington because of fears of extremist violence.

Putting his national security team in place quickly is a high priority for Biden, not only because of his hopes for reversing or modifying Trump administration policy shifts but also because of diplomatic, military and intelligence problems around the world that may create challenges early in his tenure.

The most controversial of the group may be Lloyd Austin, the recently retired Army general whom Biden selected to lead the Pentagon. Austin will need not only a favourable confirmation vote in the Senate but also a waiver by both the House and the Senate because he has been out of uniform only four years.

The last time a new president did not have his secretary of defence confirmed by Inauguration Day was in 1989. President George H.W. Bush’s nominee, John Tower, had run into opposition and ended up rejected by the Senate several weeks later.

Also facing confirmation hearings were Biden confidant Antony Blinken to lead the State Department, and Janet Yellen as treasury secretary, another first for a woman.

In prepared remarks, Blinken said he is ready to confront challenges posed by China, Iran, North Korea and Russia and is committed to rebuilding the State Department after four years of atrophy under the Trump administration.

Ahead of the Blinken hearing, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, said he expects the committee to vote on the nomination on Monday.

Blinken will tell the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that he sees a world of rising nationalism and receding democracy. In remarks prepared for his confirmation hearing, Blinken will say that mounting threats from authoritarian states are reshaping all aspects of human lives, particularly in cyberspace. He’ll say that American global leadership still matters and without it rivals will either step in to fill the vacuum or there will be chaos — and neither is a palatable choice.

Blinken also promises to bring Congress in as a full foreign policy partner, a subtle jab at the Trump administration and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who routinely ignored or bypassed lawmakers in policy-making. He called the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill “senseless and searing” and pledged to work with Congress.

Austin was testifying later Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, but the panel will not be in position to vote until he gets the waiver. Republicans are expected to broadly support the Austin nomination, as are Democrats.

Biden’s emerging Cabinet marks a return to a more traditional approach to governing, relying on veteran policymakers with deep expertise and strong relationships in Washington and global capitals. Austin is something of an exception in that only twice in history has a recently retired general served as defence secretary — most recently Mattis.

Austin, who would be the first Black secretary of defence, retired from the military as a four-star general in 2016. The law requires a minimum seven-year waiting period.

Doubts about the wisdom of having a recently retired officer running the Pentagon are rooted in an American tradition of protecting against excessive military influence by ensuring that civilians are in control. When he announced Austin as his pick in December, Biden insisted he is “uniquely suited” for the job.

Lindsay P. Cohn, an expert on civil-military relations and an associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College, said at a Senate hearing on the subject last week that an Austin waiver raises worrying risks.

“Choosing a recently retired general officer and arguing that he is uniquely qualified for the current challenges furthers the narrative that military officers are better at things and more reliable or trustworthy than civil servants or other civilians,” she said. “This is hugely problematic at a time when one of the biggest challenges facing the country is the need to restore trust and faith in the political system. Implying that only a military officer can do this job at this time is counterproductive to that goal.”

Some Democrats have already said they will oppose a waiver. They argue that granting it for two administrations in a row makes the exception more like a rule. Even so, a favourable vote seems likely.

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., on Friday introduced waiver legislation for Austin.


Associated Press writers Ben Fox, Eric Tucker and Martin Crutsinger contributed to this report.

Robert Burns, Lolita C. Baldor And Matthew Lee, The Associated Press

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Spy Chief Nominee Haines Vows 'No Place for Politics' in Her Job – BNN



(Bloomberg) — President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as director of national intelligence is pledging she’ll never let politics affect decision-making in the collection and use of intelligence.

“To be effective, the DNI must never shy away from speaking truth to power — even, especially, when doing so may be inconvenient or difficult,” Avril Haines, who would be the nation’s first woman to oversee U.S. intelligence agencies, said in testimony prepared for her confirmation hearing on Tuesday. “To safeguard the integrity of our Intelligence Community, the DNI must insist that, when it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics — ever.”

Haines also intends to tell the Senate Intelligence Committee that she wants to use intelligence to better support efforts to counter China’s “unfair, illegal, aggressive and coercive actions, as well as its human rights violations,” according to excerpts from her prepared remarks for the 10 a.m. EST hearing.

Biden said when he chose Haines for the position in November that he expected her to help restore independence to intelligence agencies that were subjected to frequent attacks by President Donald Trump, who often portrayed them as part of a “deep state” bent on undermining his presidency.

Trump chose enthusiastic Republican supporters in Congress for key intelligence posts, including Michael Pompeo, his first CIA director, and John Ratcliffe, his final director of national intelligence.

Biden’s Top Cabinet Choices — Who May Not Be on the Job Day One

“To lead our intelligence community, I didn’t pick a politician or a political figure, I picked a professional,” Biden said.

Haines, 51, was the Central Intelligence Agency’s deputy director from 2013 to 2015 under President Barack Obama and was his deputy national security adviser from 2015 to 2017.

Haines says in her prepared testimony that intelligence agencies should apply their capabilities to help end the global coronavirus pandemic “while also addressing the long-term challenge of future biological crises — enabling U.S. global health leadership and positioning us to detect future outbreaks before they become pandemics.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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