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Essential Politics: The pandemic response, a year later – Los Angeles Times

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This is the March 10, 2021, edition of the Essential Politics newsletter. Like what you’re reading? Sign up to get it in your inbox three times a week.

To start today’s newsletter, let’s get personal.

At the end of February 2020, I visited The Times’ offices in El Segundo for the first time.

I had been at the company all of two months, but in the Washington bureau. This was a chance to finally meet some of my colleagues in person. I went out to lunch with my team and met a friend for dinner. I spent a free afternoon at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. And I took a full flight home. In retrospect, that trip was one of the last “normal” things I did.

Days after I returned to Washington, my world dramatically shifted. Over the course of an afternoon, my boss and I discussed whether I should quarantine after being on an airplane. My mom urged me to work from home. My husband did too. On March 10, 2020, I left the Washington bureau’s office, certain I’d be back soon. I wasn’t, of course.

Everyone has a story like mine — a story about the moment that neatly cleaved the past from the pandemic present. For many, that moment was a year ago this week.

Last March 11 brought a series of bombshell headlines: The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Tom Hanks announced he’d contracted the coronavirus. The NBA suspended the 2020 season. President Trump banned travel from Europe. On March 13, he declared a national emergency. So began a year of politics unlike any in memory.

How it started

The 2020 outlook: A March 8 Times story included this quote: “We’re past the point of containment,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration during the first two years of the Trump administration, on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Days later, researchers cast doubt on the U.S. case count, suggesting the real toll was already much higher than officially reported. Health officials warned of dwindling supplies of tests and medical equipment.

“The system is not really geared to what we need right now,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, told the House Oversight Committee. “That is a failing. It is a failing. Let’s admit it.”

Trump had for weeks downplayed the virus’ threat and continued to claim that Democrats and the media were overstating its risks. At times he directly contradicted experts like Fauci. It was an approach that drew criticism and highlighted existing flaws in the administration’s communications, Eli Stokols and Noah Bierman reported. Ultimately his own advisors blamed his erratic stewardship for his election defeat.

The headlines:

The relief: Discussions about an emergency relief package quickly began but slowed amid disagreements among Democrats, Republicans and Trump.

A Democratic proposal in the House included enhanced unemployment benefits, paid sick leave and a boost in the availability of food stamps, Jennifer Haberkorn reported March 11. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin worked together on a deal, though it was ultimately slimmer than what Democrats had proposed.

Trump pressed for tax cuts, unsuccessfully seeking support from Senate Republicans. A strategy-planning lunch that week ended without agreement. Congress would not pass legislation to send to the president for two more weeks.

What the president was up to: He played golf at Mar-a-Lago and dined with Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro. He campaigned for reelection. He also agreed to stop shaking hands and cancel campaign rallies.

Trump focused on trying to mitigate the virus’ economic impact, including by announcing the European travel ban and a national emergency. He’d planned, after all, to take credit for a good economy in campaigning for a second term, Stokols and Bierman reported.

He was also tweeting — largely criticism of Joe Biden, his likely presidential rival, President Obama and other Democrats. “Sleepy Joe Biden was in charge of the H1N1 Swine Flu epidemic which killed thousands of people. The response was one of the worst on record. Our response is one of the best, with fast action of border closings & a 78% Approval Rating, the highest on record. His was lowest!” Trump tweeted on March 12, misrepresenting the facts about the 2009 contagion, which killed more than 12,000 Americans while Biden was vice president.

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How it’s going

The 2021 outlook: Biden’s promises to rein in the pandemic are being put to the test. Congress is set to give final approval Wednesday to a new relief package that achieves a number of Democratic priorities.

Grief, loss and empathy have long been central to Biden’s personal story, as he highlighted in his campaign for president, Mark Z. Barabak wrote in September. He has staked his presidency on ending the pandemic and restoring the economy.

Americans have responded positively in polls. But the situation remains delicate, especially as some Republican-led states lift pandemic restrictions even as variants of the coronavirus are spreading, Megerian and Stokols write.

Republicans have almost unanimously criticized the stimulus package, calling it a “liberal wish list,” David Lauter writes. But increasingly, Democratic lawmakers and the Biden administration have decided to own that label.

The headlines:

The Times front page on March 9, 2021

The Times front page on March 9, 2021.

The relief: The latest relief package, providing $1.9 trillion in assistance for individuals, businesses, states and local governments, is one of a series over the past year and brings total aid to more than $4 trillion.

Policy disputes slowed its progress and threatened to split the Senate Democratic majority, Sarah D. Wire reported. Senate Democrats disagreed on some provisions, including a minimum wage hike, eligibility for individuals’ relief payments and the amount of federal unemployment assistance.

The package was altered some to win the votes of moderate Democrats going into this week, disappointing some but ensuring the bill’s passage. The final package provides $1,400 checks for many Americans, an expansion of Affordable Care Act subsidies and tax benefits for families, Wire reports.

After the House vote to approve Senate-passed changes, which is expected on Wednesday, the package goes to Biden to be signed into law.

What the president is up to: Biden has a series of public appearances this week to highlight vaccine progress, economic aid and lives lost over the past year. He is also scheduled to deliver a prime-time address on Thursday.

The president has been tweeting, but not with the frequency, inaccuracy and occasional falsehoods of his predecessor. Biden’s posts have largely focused on encouraging Congress to pass the relief package.

The view from Washington

— Who are Biden’s Cabinet members and nominees? Introducing a new guide from The Times.

— The White House on Monday announced a temporary protected status decree that could allow tens of thousands of Venezuelans who fled their homeland to remain in the United States with legal standing, report Molly O’Toole and Tracy Wilkinson.

— Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri will not seek a third term in the U.S. Senate — the fifth Senate Republican to decide against running in 2022.

— The Republican National Committee is defending its right to use Trump’s name in fundraising appeals despite his demands that they stop the practice. He has urged his supporters to send money to his own PAC instead.

— Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has formally approved an extension of the National Guard deployment at the U.S. Capitol for about two more months as possible threats of violence remain.

— A Trump-era immigration rule denying green cards to immigrants who use public benefits like food stamps was dealt likely fatal blows Tuesday after the Biden administration dropped legal challenges.

The view from California

— At his State of the State address, Gov. Gavin Newsom made an aggressive effort to rekindle faith in his ability to lead a state tattered by the pandemic as he faces an attempt to recall him from office, Taryn Luna and Phil Willon write.

— The publication of private, intimate pictures of former Rep. Katie Hill that drove her to resign from office will be contested in court this week in an argument that pits the 1st Amendment against California’s revenge-porn law, reports Seema Mehta.

— California politicians used to out-tough each other on the death penalty, writes Barabak. But times have changed and so have candidates’ approaches.

Stay in touch

Keep up with breaking news on our Politics page. And are you following us on Twitter at @latimespolitics?

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Until next time, send your comments, suggestions and news tips to politics@latimes.com.

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Prince Philip took a keen interest in Canada, but stayed above politics, former GGs and PM say

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When former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien met the late Prince Philip for the first time, he told him that for an Englishman, his French was very good.

“He said ‘I’m not English and I’ve spoken French since before you were born,’” Chrétien told the Star Friday, commenting on his many encounters over 50 years with the Duke of Edinburgh.

“He was not dull, let me put it that way,” Chrétien said. “He had some strong views. Sometimes he had to show discipline to not speak up more than he would have wished.”

Philip, born in Greece in 1921 and husband to Queen Elizabeth II for over 73 years, died at the age of 99 on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he first met Philip when he was a little boy, described him as “a man of great purpose and conviction, who was motivated by a sense of duty to others.”

Former prime ministers and governors general spoke of a man who understood his role and knew not to get involved in politics, but who was very knowledgeable about Canada and took a keen interest in the country’s success.

“I was always impressed by their knowledge,” Chrétien said of Philip and the Queen, Canada’s head of state.

He said he can recall Philip asking about the prospect of Quebec separating from the rest of the country. “Not in a very political fashion, just in terms of interest. Of course he was interested to not see Canada break up. He would certainly say that to me.”

 

Statements from former prime ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper highlighted Philip’s devotion to the Canadian armed forces and charitable organizations, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an international self-development program for young people.

Former governors general David Johnston and Michaëlle Jean, through their role as the Queen’s representative in Canada, were also able to get to know Philip more intimately, particularly at the Queen’s Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland.

Jean recalls being “overwhelmed” by all the protocol recommendations ahead of a Balmoral visit with her husband and six-year-old daughter prior to taking office in 2005, only to find Philip and the Queen greeting them at the door, with Philip paying special attention to her daughter.

“The memory I keep of Prince Philip is that of an affable, caring, elegant and warm man,” Jean told the Star, adding he was a man who was very attentive to detail.

She recalled attending a barbecue on the Balmoral estate, just the four of them, and Philip telling her, “Don’t forget to congratulate Her Majesty for her salad dressing, because she made it herself.”

What Jean also saw was a man sometimes hampered by the limitations of his role, like when he talked about one of his favourite topics, the environment.

“He said ‘I do a lot about it, I raise awareness, I take actions…I feel that whatever I do, no one cares,’” Jean recounted. “What I got from that is how lonely he felt…There was a sense of not feeling appreciated in proportion to his contributions, a feeling of being misunderstood.”

Johnston, who succeeded Jean, said Canada’s constitutional monarchy — where the head of state is politically neutral and separate from elected office — is an “important and precious” form of government, and Philip was key to making it work.

Philip showed leadership as a servant, Johnston said, “not taking centre stage, but by ensuring that the Queen and the monarchy were front row and centre.

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“He played such an important structural role, and did that with great diligence and commitment. He was selfless in that respect,” Johnston said in an interview.

For Matthew Rowe, who works on the Royal Family’s charitable endeavours in Canada, the Duke of Edinburgh’s political value to Canada was precisely that he was not political — that he, along with the rest of the monarchy, provided a stabilizing force outside of the partisan fray.

He was dynamic, irascible, exasperating, intriguing. And he was always three steps behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who utterly adored him throughout their 73-year marriage, flaws, faux pas and all.

“His presence, and the role of Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, has been to be able to represent the nation, to represent Canadian interests, and commemorate Canadian achievements without being tied to a particular political ideology or regional faction,” Rowe, who met Philip at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2010, said in an interview.

 

Philip’s role meant he could speak more frankly than the Queen in public, and spoke “quite thoughtfully” about the constitutional monarchy in Canada, said University of Toronto history instructor Carolyn Harris.

At a press conference in Ottawa in 1969, Philip famously said that the monarchy doesn’t exist “in the interests of the monarch…It exists solely in the interest of the people. We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”

Philip had a good, joking relationship with Johnston’s wife, Sharon. He recounted how the two joined the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral in August 2010, prior to Johnston’s swearing-in later that year.

One evening, they were returning to the castle from a barbecue at a renovated shepherd’s hut on the estate — just the four of them, the Queen driving with Johnston in one land rover, and Philip driving with Sharon in the other ahead of them on narrow, highland roads.

“We were coming home at about 10 p.m., as black as could be, he and Sharon were ahead, kind of weaving, and we could hear these gales of laughter coming out. They were cracking jokes at one another,” Johnston said.

“I had a vision of him going over the edge and down half a mile into the valley, and my first thought is: Do the Queen and I rustle down to rescue them?”

Chrétien said “it must be terrible” for the Queen to now find herself alone after a marriage that lasted for more than 70 years. He noted it’s been almost seven months to the day since he lost his wife, Aline.

 

“It’s a big change in life but she’s an extremely courageous person and she will face the situation with the strength that she has been able to show to the world for the almost 70 years she’s been queen,” Chrétien said.

With files from Alex Boutilier and Kieran Leavitt

 

 

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After warning, McConnell softens posture on corporations’ taking political stances

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., softened his stance on corporations’ getting involved in politics Wednesday, a day after he warned companies not to weigh in on hot button issues.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are,” McConnell told reporters. “My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill.

“They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation … given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way,” he said.

McConnell was referring to a controversial voting law recently passed in Georgia, which came about in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about the election result in the state last fall.

The law led the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola — which are based in Atlanta — to condemn the measure. And last week, Major League Baseball pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. The game will, instead, be played in Colorado.

In recent weeks, McConnell has excoriated corporate America for boycotting states over various GOP-led bills. He said Tuesday that it is “stupid” for corporations to take positions on divisive political issues but noted that his criticism did not extend to their donations.

“So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America’s greatest political debates.”

Major League Baseball’s decision drew the most outrage from Republicans, as Trump called for a boycott of baseball and other companies that spoke out against the Georgia law. McConnell said Tuesday that the latest moves are “irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.”

McConnell, long a champion of big money in politics, however, noted Tuesday that corporations “have a right to participate in a political process” but said they should do so without alienating “an awful lot of people.”

“I’m not talking about political contributions,” he said. “I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law that passed. I just think it’s stupid.”

Source:- NBC News

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Facebook Removes 1,000 Fake Accounts Seeking to Sway Global Politics

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(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. said it removed 14 networks representing more than 1,000 accounts seeking to sway politics around the world, including in Iran and El Salvador, while misleading the public about their identity.

Most of the removed networks were in the early stages of building their audiences, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Tuesday. Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday, part of its monthly reporting on efforts to rid its platforms of fake accounts, represents one of the larger crack downs by the company in recent months.

“We have been growing this program for several years,” said David Agranovich, Facebook’s global threat disruption lead. “I would expect to see this drum beat of take downs to continue.”

In one example, the company removed a network of more than 300 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and the photo-sharing app Instagram that appear to be run by a years-old troll farm located in Albania and operated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group. The group appeared to target Iran, but also other audiences with content about Iran, according to a report released by Facebook.

The group was most active in 2017, but increased its activity again in the latter half of 2020. It was one of a handful of the influence campaigns that likely used machine learning technologies capable of creating realistic profile photos to the naked eye, Facebook said in the report.

The company also removed 118 accounts, eight pages and 10 Instagram accounts based in Spain and El Salvador for violating the company’s foreign interference policy. The group amplified criticism of Henry Flores, a mayoral candidate in Santa Tecla, El Savador and supportive commentary of his rivals, the company said.

The social media giant also took down a network of 29 Facebook accounts, two pages, one group and 10 Instagram accounts based in Iran that was targeting Israel. The people behind the network posed as locals and posted criticism about Isreali prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Facebook. The company also took down networks based in Argentina, Mexico, Egypt and other nations.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said the company has improved its ability to identify inauthentic accounts, but said bad actors continue to change their strategies to avoid Facebook’s detection.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Source:- BNN

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