DON GONYEA, HOST:
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.
MARK BARABAK: Hi, Don.
GONYEA: And last but certainly not least, New York Times correspondent Kathleen Gray. She is based in Michigan. Kathleen, welcome.
KATHLEEN GRAY: Hi, Don.
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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Green Party in turmoil, leader resists calls to step down
Canada‘s Green Party was increasingly mired in an internal dispute over its position on Israel on Tuesday, and a news report said the bloc would hold a vote next month on whether to oust its leader, Annamie Paul, who was elected just eight months ago.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) reported that the Greens had triggered a process that could remove Paul, the first black person to head a mainstream Canadian party, beginning with a vote next month.
A Green Party spokesperson declined to comment on the report, but said the party’s “federal council” would meet later on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Paul, 48, rejected calls from the Quebec wing of the party for her to resign after a member of parliament left the Greens due to the Israel controversy.
“I believe that I have been given a strong mandate. I believe that I have been given the instructions to work on behalf of Canadians for a green recovery,” Paul said at a news conference in Ottawa.
Paul herself is not a member of parliament. The Greens – who champion the environment and the fight against climate change – had only three legislators in the 338-seat House of Commons and one, Jenica Atwin, abandoned the party last week to join the governing Liberals.
Atwin has said that her exit was in large part due to a dispute over the party’s stance on Israel. Atwin on Twitter has criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, while a senior adviser to Paul, Noah Zatzman, has posted on Facebook that some unspecified Green members of parliament are anti-Semitic.
The party’s executive committee voted last week not to renew Zatzman’s contract, local media reported. Paul converted to Judaism some two decades ago after she married a Jewish man.
While the Greens are the smallest faction in parliament, they perform well in British Colombia and hold two seats there. The current turmoil may favor their rivals ahead of a national election that senior Liberals say could be just a few months away.
The Greens would win about 6.7% of the vote nationally if a vote were held now, according to an average of recent polls aggregated by the CBC.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
Hope, anger and defiance greet birth of Israel’s new government
Following are reactions to the new government in Israel, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER
“We’ll be back, soon.”
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations.”
NABIL ABU RUDEINEH, SPOKESMAN FOR PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS
“This is an internal Israeli affair. Our position has always been clear, what we want is a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER VIA TWITTER
“On behalf of the UK, I offer my congratulations to
@naftalibennett and @yairlapid on forming a new government in Israel. As we emerge from COVID-19, this is an exciting time for the UK and Israel to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all.”
TOR WENNESLAND, U.N. MIDDLE EAST PEACE ENVOY VIA TWITTER
“I look forward to working with the Government to advance the ultimate goal of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
CHARLES MICHEL, EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT VIA TWITTER
“Congratulations to Prime Minister @naftalibennett and to Alternate PM & MFA @yairlapid for the swearing in of the new Israeli government. Looking forward to strengthen the partnership for common prosperity and towards lasting regional peace & stability.”
FAWZI BARHOUM, HAMAS SPOKESMAN
“Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity. It is an occupation and a colonial entity, which we should resist by force to get our rights back.”
BENNY GANTZ, ISRAELI DEFENCE MINISTER
“With all due respect, Israel is not a widower. Israel’s security was never dependent on one man. And it will never be dependent on one man.”
CHUCK SCHUMER, U.S. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER
“So, there’s a new Administration in Israel. And we are hopeful that we can now begin serious negotiations for a two-state solution. I am urging the Biden Administration to do all it can to bring the parties together and help achieve a two-state solution where each side can live side by side in peace.”
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA
“Congratulations on the formation of a new Israeli government, Prime Minister @NaftaliBennett and Alternate Prime Minister @YairLapid. Together, let’s explore ways to further strengthen the relationship between Canada and Israel.”
MANSOUR ABBAS, ARAB MEMBER OF NEW ISRAELI GOVERNMENT
“We are aware that this step has a lot of risks and hardships that we cannot deny, but the opportunity for us is also big: to change the equation and the balance of power in the Knesset and in the upcoming government.”
DAPHNA KILION, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM
“I think it’s very exciting for Israel to have a new beginning and I’m hopeful that the new government will take them in the right direction.”
EREZ GOLDMAN, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM
“It’s a sad day today, it’s not a legitimate government. It’s pretty sad that almost 86 (out of 120 seats) in the parliament, the Knesset, belong to the right-wing and they sold their soul and ideology and their beliefs to the extreme left-wing just for one purpose – hatred of Netanyahu and to become a prime minister.”
SEBASTIAN KURZ, CHANCELLOR OF AUSTRIA, VIA TWITTER
“Congratulations to PM @naftalibennett and alternate PM @yairlapid for forming a government. I look forward to working with you. Austria is committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will continue to stand by Israel’s side.”
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)
Boris Johnson hails Biden as ‘a big breath of fresh air’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”, and praised his determination to work with allies on important global issues ranging from climate change and COVID-19 to security.
Johnson did not draw an explicit parallel between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump after talks with the Democratic president in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay on the eve of a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies.
But his comments made clear Biden had taken a much more multilateral approach to talks than Trump, whose vision of the world at times shocked, angered and bewildered many of Washington’s European allies.
“It’s a big breath of fresh air,” Johnson said of a meeting that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.
“It was a long, long, good session. We covered a huge range of subjects,” he said. “It’s new, it’s interesting and we’re working very hard together.”
The two leaders appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the Atlantic alongside their wives, with Jill Biden wearing a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”.
“It’s a beautiful beginning,” she said.
Though Johnson said the talks were “great”, Biden brought grave concerns about a row between Britain and the European Union which he said could threaten peace in the British region of Northern Ireland, which following Britain’s departure from the EU is on the United Kingdom’s frontier with the bloc as it borders EU member state Ireland.
The two leaders did not have a joint briefing after the meeting: Johnson spoke to British media while Biden made a speech about a U.S. plan to donate half a billion vaccines to poorer countries.
Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, was keen to prevent difficult negotiations between Brussels and London undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Britain that Biden had a “rock-solid belief” in the peace deal and that any steps that imperilled the accord would not be welcomed.
Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.
Johnson sought to play down the differences with Washington.
“There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” said Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.
Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, he said: “No he didn’t.
“America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do,” Johnson said. “And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground.”
The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.
Britain’s exit from the EU has strained the peace in Northern Ireland. The 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets but a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.
Johnson’s Downing Street office said he and Biden agreed that both Britain and the EU “had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade” between Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal, Padraic Halpin, John Chalmers; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Mark Potter and Timothy Heritage)
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