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As Republicans relish bashing Biden in Ohio, Democrat Ryan cheers Trump on trade

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — When Donald Trump joked with supporters in Ohio that Republican Senate hopeful J.D. Vance had been “kissing my ass” for an endorsement, you could almost hear the snorts of delight from rival Tim Ryan’s campaign staff.

For Democrats, the payoff came last week when Ryan and Vance squared off in their first and only televised debate of the 2022 midterms.

“I don’t kiss anyone’s ass, like him,” Ryan sneered, jerking a thumb towards his opponent, near the end of an hour-long exchange that otherwise seemed civil — tame, even — by modern standards.

“Ohio needs an ass kicker, not an ass kisser.”

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Like so much of what comes out of Trump’s mouth at his rallies, it’s hard to gauge whether the Sept. 17 remark — a rebuttal to media reports that he’d become a liability on the campaign trail — had much impact.

But it illustrates a peculiar inversion of this midterm season: Democrats and Republicans would rather talk about each other’s leaders than their own.

Across the Mahoning Valley, a rolling, fertile tract of northeast Ohio that’s home to the hardscrabble industrial city of Youngstown, Joe Biden’s thumbs-up likeness looks down from countless roadside billboards — Republican ones deriding him.

By contrast, pro-Democrat advertising is all but invisible throughout the region, testament to how much of a burden the president has become to the party in its midterm effort to retail control of the House and the Senate.

Biden ran on a promise to bring the country together, only to turn around earlier this year and attack what he called “MAGA Republicans,” Vance said — a potent charge in a state where Trump proved popular in both 2016 and 2020.

“The end result of Joe Biden’s policies, and the end result of his rhetoric, is that we hate each other a lot more than we did two years ago,” Vance said.

“That’s a significant failure of leadership.”

That hasn’t prevented Biden from trying to shore up support in the state, where he’s been making the case that Ohio stands to benefit from two of his signature legislative wins: the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.

He credits the former, a multibillion-dollar package of incentives to foster domestic semiconductor development and manufacturing, for a brand new $20-billion Intel facility in Ohio. Once complete, it will create 3,000 full-time jobs paying an average of $135,000 a year — “and not all of them will require college degrees once these facilities are built,” Biden said during last month’s groundbreaking.

Last week, another victory lap, this one courtesy of the Inflation Reduction Act, which fosters the manufacture and sale of electric vehicles: Honda and LG teaming up to spend more than $5 billion on a new battery plant in the state and retool existing facilities.

“This has been the backbone of my economic plan,” Biden said. “America is leading the world again, rebuilding our supply chains, infrastructure, and manufacturing here at home.”

All of it may be for naught, however, if voters don’t turn up at the polls — a potentially serious problem for Democrats in a part of the country battered by, and weary of, the constant political push and pull.

The turmoil of 2020 “has left a lot of people exhausted,” said John Jarvis, a retired firefighter and lifelong Youngstown resident as he relaxed at a local beer hall Saturday with his wife and eight-month-old Thurman, a golden retriever puppy.

That’s why the couple, who self-identify as Democrats, have paid “no attention at all” to the midterms, still weary of the tensions of two years ago, said Jarvis’s wife, Laura.

“At work, it’s very torn one way or the other between one side that wants Trump versus Biden.”

Ohio has in recent years become a study in political contradictions.

In two successive presidential elections, Donald Trump bested his Democratic rivals by more than eight per cent in the state, which also opted for Barack Obama twice in 2008 and 2012, albeit by smaller margins.

“This area was a very, very strong Democrat area for a long, long time,” said Jarvis. “I think that swayed a little bit with Trump. Now, I’m not real sure.”

Ohio is also home to Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown, a 15-year veteran of the upper chamber that Ohio State University politics professor Paul Beck describes as “among the most liberal members of the U.S. Senate.”

Beck bristles at the suggestion that Ohio is now Republican territory: “It’s not as if Republican presidential candidates have turned Ohio into a red state.”

But Ryan — since 2003 a congressman who grew up near Youngstown in the region he represents, which has been hit hard by the steady decline of the manufacturing and steel sectors in the U.S. Midwest — has nonetheless adapted a political style more sympathetic to the former president than the current one.

“I’ve run against Nancy Pelosi, I have taken on Bernie Sanders, I have opposed Joe Biden on numerous pieces of legislation that he wants to try to promote and push,” Ryan said during the debate.

“And I’ve agreed with Donald Trump on trade, renegotiating NAFTA, being firmer on China, defence, General Mattis being secretary of defense and all the rest.”

Despite his opposition to NAFTA, an essential position for any Ohio politician, Beck said he would expect Ryan to be an ally to Canada, given the key role the state plays in the highly integrated cross-border auto sector.

“Ryan has always spoken favourably about trade with Canada,” Beck said.

“The part of Ohio that he’s from — and certainly the part of Ohio that is closer to Detroit and Windsor and that part of Canada — has been very dependent upon agreements between Canadian and American investors and companies in the automotive (industry).”

Undecided voters represent roughly 10 per cent of the electorate, recent polls suggest — which is why Ryan’s debate-night dig at Vance over his fealty to Trump could well have done some damage, Beck said.

“It could move independents and people who are maybe reluctant Republicans into the Ryan column,” he said.

“Of course, he has courted them and tried to go after them and persuade them that he is not your vintage Democrat, but somebody that they indeed can vote for.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022.

 

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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Repeal of military vaccine mandate shows changing pandemic politics – The Hill

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The elimination of the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate as part of the defense policy bill represents a surprise concession by Democrats, and shows how the politics of the pandemic have changed. 

Vaccine mandates have been championed by the Biden administration, congressional Democrats and blue state governors as an important tool in the fight against the coronavirus. 

The Pentagon’s policy took effect in August 2021 during the height of the omicron wave, when the Biden administration was pulling out all the stops to jump-start lagging vaccination rates. The mandate has led to the dismissal of nearly 8,500 service members. 

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Cash giveaways, dating app partnerships and even free college tuition were barely moving the needle, so the administration decided new rules were necessary to force the issue.

As a result, the White House announced a slew of vaccine-or-test mandates that would cover roughly two-thirds of all public and private sector workers.

Republicans have been steadfast in their opposition. The Supreme Court eventually blocked the administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers. The court allowed a vaccine-only mandate for health providers at federally funded facilities.  

The White House and the Defense Department said the military’s vaccine mandate was essential in protecting troops from COVID-19. The Pentagon has long mandated certain vaccines, and the coronavirus one was no different. The department said it would prevent outbreaks of the virus that could hit entire units, putting military readiness at risk. 

Republicans in both chambers saw the annual defense bill as an opportunity to get rid of the Pentagon’s mandate, and threatened to block the $847 billion legislation.

But by giving in to Republican demands, Democrats acknowledged that the public has moved on, and there’s not much appetite for any sort of virus-fighting rules.

“The policy that the Department of Defense implemented in August of 2021 … was absolutely the right policy. It saved lives and it made sure our force was as ready as it possibly could be in the face of the pandemic,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, (D-Wash.), said during a speech before the House Rules Committee defending the authorization bill. 

“As we are here in December 2022, does that August 2021 policy still make sense? We don’t believe that it is, and I don’t believe that it is,” Smith said.

Smith noted that the Pentagon’s policy is outdated, because it only requires a soldier to get the primary vaccine series. 

“Someone who got that shot back in April 2021, that is not protecting you at all today. I think the science on that is very clear, some 18 months later. But the policy says if you got that, you’re good,” Smith said. “So, I think it’s time to update the policy.”

Public health experts agreed that the policy is outdated. The majority of COVID-19 infections are caused by substrains of the omicron variant, and the administration is trying to convince the public to get booster shots that specifically target the omicron variant.

“If it’s not going to be maintained as an up-to-date requirement, it isn’t going to be as effective as it could be, for sure,” said Jen Kates, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Kates said the vaccines still work at keeping people from getting severely ill, and mandates help boost vaccination rates. Eliminating the mandate was done in the interest of political expediency.

“I would argue there are unique reasons why the military might require a vaccination. But because COVID has become so politicized, there’s no appetite to go down that road,” Kates said. 

Opponents of the vaccine have argued mandates are not effective, because the vaccine won’t entirely prevent transmission or keep someone from getting sick. They also pointed to President Biden’s public comments that the pandemic is “over.”

Republican leaders celebrated the inclusion of the repeal, while also vowing to continue the fight against the administration’s COVID-19 mitigation strategy next term when Republicans control the House. 

“Make no mistake: this is a win for our military,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a statement Tuesday. He said when the GOP takes over the House next year, Republicans will “work to finally hold the Biden administration accountable and assist the men and women in uniform who were unfairly targeted.”

The defense legislation easily passed the House on Thursday, and the Senate is expected to vote next week.

Democrats characterized removing the vaccine mandate as a necessary compromise in order to get Republicans to support the legislation. 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Tuesday that he supported the mandate, but acknowledged that on major bills requiring bipartisan support, like the NDAA, no side gets everything it wants. 

With that in mind, he suggested Democrats were open to sacrificing the vaccine mandate for the simple sake of securing passage of the larger defense package.

“We are willing to compromise because we want to make sure we fund the government, and we want to make sure that we get the national defense bill passed. This is a small part of it,” Hoyer said.

“They needed Republican votes,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee. 

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said she was not involved in the decision to jettison the mandate and did not support it.

“I think it’s kind of a foolish decision, because we say that that’s the only vaccine that soldiers don’t have to have? That seems to me a response to something other than a medical decision,” Shaheen said.

The White House and the Pentagon insist that repealing the mandate is a mistake, and will endanger the health of soldiers.

But administration officials were quick to blame Republicans, even though the legislation was a bipartisan compromise.

“What we think happened here is Republicans in Congress have decided that they’d rather fight against the health and well-being of our troops than protecting them,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday.

“And we believe that it is a mistake, what we saw happen on the NDAA as it relates to the vaccine mandate,“ she added. “Making sure our troops are prepared and ready for service is a priority for President Biden. The vaccination requirement for COVID does just that.”

Mike Lillis contributed.

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What a Toronto-area byelection could tell us about federal politics – Canada's National Observer

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On Dec. 12, voters in the federal riding of Mississauga-Lakeshore will go to the polls in a byelection called by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last month. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) riding has been without representation since last spring when three-term Liberal MP Sven Spengemann suddenly resigned to accept a role with the United Nations.

Mississauga-Lakeshore will be ground zero in the next federal election. It’s precisely the sort of suburban, diverse and middle-class riding the Conservatives must win if they’re to dislodge Trudeau’s Liberals after nearly a decade in power. By the same token, the Liberals must win ridings like this one across the GTA if they’re to secure a fourth consecutive mandate.

The stakes could not be higher in what’s been a surprisingly sleepy byelection campaign that has failed to garner national attention.

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That’s because the results in Mississauga-Lakeshore on Monday evening could signal what’s to come on the federal political scene as the country looks ahead to an election that could be triggered at any point over the next three years. Which party prevails in this critical swing riding, and by what margin, will be instructive for party strategists as they plot a path forward for their respective parties in yet another precarious minority Parliament.

Byelection results can have little to no impact on national political trends, or they can foreshadow seismic shifts among the electorate. An unexpected byelection result can be illustrative of broader political sentiments across the country — attitudes that even mainstream media may not be attuned to.

There are dozens of byelection results over the decades that foretold nascent mindsets emerging on the ground. Take, for example, the byelection results from another “bellwether” GTA riding from almost a decade ago. In 2014, Whitby-Oshawa suddenly found itself with no representation after the death of its MP, Jim Flaherty, the former federal minister of finance.

At the time, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives led in most public opinion polling, despite approaching a decade in power. The once-dominant Liberal Party was a shell of its former self, reduced to third-party status in the House of Commons, and rookie leader Justin Trudeau was perceived as a lightweight by much of the Canadian establishment. In fact, it was the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair as leader of the Official Opposition who was seen as Harper’s chief opponent.

But when the votes were tallied, Liberal candidate Celina Caesar-Chavannes finished a close second, surprising many observers. It was this strong local showing that foreshadowed Trudeau’s unprecedented, come-from-behind win in 2015 when Liberals swept the GTA, easily winning Whitby-Oshawa — a riding they still hold today.

Just as often, byelection results mean nothing for the winning or losing party. The reality is these hyper-local elections give voters the rare opportunity to signal their frustration with the powers-that-be without being able to defeat the government. This dynamic often leads to poor byelection results for otherwise popular governments, as voters understand the stakes are merely local.

With this in mind, what are the dynamics at play in Mississauga-Lakeshore?

Voters cast their ballots in Monday’s federal byelection. The swing riding of Mississauga-Lakeshore will be ground zero in the next federal election, writes @andrewaperez. #cdnpoli

The riding is the textbook definition of a “bellwether” riding that almost always aligns with national or provincial trends. Provincially, the riding has been held by the governing party in every election since 1995. On the federal scene, it was represented by Liberal MPs for 26 of the past 30 years but fell to the Conservatives when Stephen Harper won a majority government in 2011.

Spengemann, its former MP, won the riding by more than 3,500 votes a mere 15 months ago. While national political dynamics have shifted somewhat over the past year as a result of Pierre Poilievre’s populist-inspired rise as Conservative leader, this recent margin of victory must be encouraging for Trudeau’s inner circle.

But that’s not all Trudeau’s Liberals have going for them as Dec. 12 approaches.

Their candidate, veteran politician Charles Sousa, comes to this local fight with a significant profile. As Ontario’s former minister of finance, Sousa comes armed with gravitas and substantial government experience. He’s well-connected in the riding’s Portuguese community and would be an immediate contender for a major cabinet post. Sousa’s prospects are also aided by the fact his party remains statistically tied with the Tories in most recent public opinion polls.

Sousa might be just what Trudeau’s Liberals need as they fight back the “three-term blues” amid an intensifying affordability crisis. Policy aside, the number 1 criticism launched against this government is its poor communications and inability to empathize with the everyday struggles Canadians confront in an increasingly uncertain world.

Sousa could serve as an antidote to some of the government’s challenges. A strong communicator, he’s long been extolled for his deep radio voice. He’s also a talented political organizer that could lend an important hand to the party’s efforts across the seat-rich GTA in the next election campaign. With only Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra representing Mississauga in Trudeau’s inner circle, Ontario’s third-largest municipality could benefit from a second voice at the cabinet table.

While some observers are predicting a significant margin of victory for Sousa on Monday, the race might ultimately be tighter, mirroring the national mood. Still, expect the Liberals to prevail due to the strength of Sousa’s personal appeal and the party’s remarkably enduring brand across the GTA.

Come the morning of December 13, the questions aren’t likely to centre around which party won Mississauga-Lakeshore, but on the margin of victory and what it portends for the dynamics at play in the next general election. After winning most Toronto-area ridings by wide margins over the past three elections, a photo-finish win for the Liberals could signal they’re losing ground across the seat-rich Greater Toronto Area. In the same vein, a clear loss for the Conservatives could foreshadow future challenges for the party in a region that traditionally determines which party forms government in this country.

Andrew Perez is a Toronto-based public affairs strategist, freelance writer, and political activist and commentator. He works as a senior consultant in the Toronto office of Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

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Alberta passes sovereignty act, but first strips out sweeping powers to cabinet

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The Alberta legislature has passed Premier Danielle Smith’s controversial sovereignty act but not before first stripping out the provision that granted Smith’s cabinet the power to bypass the legislature and rewrite laws as it saw fit.

Smith’s United Conservative caucus used its majority Wednesday night to pass an amendment to affirm that the Alberta legislature still has the last word on lawmaking.

It then moved directly to third and final reading on the bill and was approved around 1 a.m. Thursday, with government members standing to applaud after it cleared the final legislative hurdle.

The final vote was 27-7 split along party lines: Smith’s UCP voting for it and the Opposition NDP against.

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Smith, speaking to the bill in third reading, said it is time to reset the relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

“It’s not like Ottawa is a national government,” said Smith.

“The way our country works is that we are a federation of sovereign, independent jurisdictions. They are one of those signatories to the Constitution and the rest of us, as signatories to the Constitution, have a right to exercise our sovereign powers in our own areas of jurisdiction.”

Immediately after the vote, NDP Leader Rachel Notley tweeted, “For the record, if we form government, we will move to repeal this horrible, anti-democratic legislation.”

The next election is set for May 29.

The NDP voted against the amendment and the bill at all three readings, calling the legislation “a hot mess express” of unconstitutional presumptions and capricious provincial powers that offend the democratic process and put a chill on business investment.

NDP deputy leader Sarah Hoffman said the UCP had to use its majority to choke off debate at three stages of debate on the bill in order to pass it just over a week after Smith introduced to blunt growing opposition.

“People don’t like it. That’s why you’re trying to ram it through here in the middle of the night,” said Hoffman.

“This (bill) erodes democracy, it hurts our economy, and it is damaging to our national and our international reputation.”

The bill was introduced by Smith as centrepiece legislation to pursue a more confrontational approach with Trudeau’s government on a range of issues deemed to be overreach in provincial areas of responsibility.

The bill faced widespread criticism from the start for provisions granting Smith and her cabinet sweeping powers to rewrite legislation. Smith initially denied the bill had such authority but as outrage mounted, she announced over the weekend there would be changes.

The amendment vote also passed along party lines. Before that vote, Notley told the house that while the bill effectively rolls back the power of cabinet to rewrite laws, an accompanying change narrowing the definition of federal harm was still worded too ambiguously to be effective.

Notley also said egregious flaws remain in the bill given it says the legislature, not the courts, gets to decide what is and is not constitutional.

And she said the bill still gives broad, undefined power to cabinet to direct municipalities, health regions, schools and city police forces to resist implementing federal laws.

Notley said on top of that, Smith failed to consult treaty chiefs before introducing the bill, and said this will “absolutely torch the critically important nation-to-nation relationship that should exist between this premier and the leaders of the treaties.”

The UCP passed motions at the final three stages of the bill to limit debate.

Such measures are allowed to balance discussion with keeping the business of the house moving.

Government House Leader Joseph Schow said Bill 1 received about 18 hours of debate, which he called a healthy total, particularly given the NDP said it wouldn’t work to make the bill better.

“There comes a point when the same message gets repeated over and over,” said Schow.

Earlier Wednesday in Ottawa, First Nations chiefs from Alberta and Saskatchewan called for both provinces to scrap their respective provincial rights bills, calling them inherently undemocratic, unconstitutional and an infringement on Indigenous rights.

Treaty 6 Chief Tony Alexis of Alberta’s Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation said there has been no consultation or dialogue with First Nations around the Alberta bill and said it could set a harmful precedent.

On Wednesday afternoon, Rick Wilson, Alberta’s Indigenous relations minister, told reporters that while Bill 1 specifies that treaty rights are respected, he has heard the leaders’ concerns and will work to address them.

Wilson said the title of the bill itself _ the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act _ is problematic.

“I’ve been on the phone, of course, with First Nations leaders across the province and a lot of the concerns are around just calling it the sovereignty act. Like, what does that mean?” said Wilson.

“In fairness, there’s not a lot of clarification around what that means. Should we have done more consultation? Absolutely.”

— With files from Kelly Geraldine Malone in Saskatoon

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2022.

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