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How Biden navigated pandemic politics to win the White House

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He wouldn’t return to in-person campaigning for 174 days.

It was a decision without precedent in modern American politics. Barack Obama and John McCain returned to Washington in the final weeks of the 2008 campaign to respond to that year’s financial collapse, but only briefly. In an era when voters are accustomed to seeing their presidential candidates constantly, the idea of a complete withdrawal was unthinkable.

That was especially true for Biden, whose tactile approach to politics is legendary.

“It was a hard call,” said Jake Sullivan, a senior Biden adviser. “If there’s no pandemic, he gets a chance to get out and do what he does, which is retail campaigning, meeting people where they are, having the opportunity to sit with folks and speak to crowds and walk down the street. That’s what he would have preferred, obviously.”

For Biden, who has been elected the 46th president of the United States, perhaps no decision was more consequential to his victory, making it possible to flip states such as Arizona and Wisconsin, where coronavirus infections and hospitalizations spiked the week of the election. Still, the cautious approach prompted ridicule from President Donald Trump, who constantly teased Biden for “hiding in his basement” and returned to large in-person events much sooner than his rival, and with far fewer precautions.

Some Democrats also worried. Several state party chairs and down-ballot candidates privately urged the campaign to resume in-person events and canvassing. Texas Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa warned that Latino turnout could suffer. The lack of personal outreach has been blamed for contributing to Biden’s poor showing with Latinos in Florida, a battleground that Trump carried.

But Biden refused to change course, defining himself early on as a responsible foil to Trump, someone who could make difficult choices and serve as something of a role model to a country facing a historic set of crises.

It was a theme Biden would return to repeatedly in the months ahead as millions of people lost their jobs, the largest protest movement since the civil rights era bloomed in response to police killings of Black people, and Trump threatened central elements of American democracy by refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost.

This account of Biden’s rise to the presidency is based on interviews with more than a dozen people who hold senior positions in the Biden and Trump campaigns along with strategists and donors in each party. Many spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the turbulent campaign with candour.

They all agree on one thing: The coronavirus fundamentally reshaped the race.

___

In the early hours of Friday, Oct. 2, a senior official at the Republican National Committee texted a colleague with a dire message about the fate of Trump’s campaign: It was hopeless.

The president had just announced that he and his wife, Melania, had tested positive for the coronavirus, joining the 7 million Americans already infected. By the end of the day, Trump would be taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Marine One, the short helicopter ride over the Washington skyline captured on live television.

Trump’s illness presented serious medical concerns and raised alarm about the stability of the U.S. government. At 74, Trump was at a higher risk of serious complications from the virus. He refused to temporarily cede power to Vice-President Mike Pence as he recovered.

“I talked to him that night. I talked to him the whole hospitalization,” said GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Trump’s closest allies in Washington. “Friday night, he wasn’t feeling good.”

Trump’s infection was both a stunning twist and entirely predictable. He’d been cavalier about the virus for months, painting Democrats as reactionaries using the pandemic to take away individual rights. He mocked mask-wearing recommendations from scientists and returned to his trademark rallies, packing thousands of mostly unmasked supporters together, sometimes over the objection of local health officials.

He held large-scale events on the South Lawn of the White House, including the introduction of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett less than a week before his diagnosis.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Trump hadn’t contracted the virus sooner.

After three nights in the hospital, Trump, who was still infectious, staged a dramatic return to the White House. Just in time for the evening newscasts on the major networks, the former reality television star climbed the South Portico steps, turned to the cameras and removed his mask to declare “I feel good.” He entered the White House, where aides were visible milling about the Blue Room, without wearing a face covering.

The move, less than a month before Election Day, was designed to show a president in control. It also threatened his relationship with the official wing of his party. On Capitol Hill, Republicans maintained their public support of Trump, eager to avoid enraged tweets that could threaten their political futures.

But at the RNC, frustration was building that Trump was missing obvious opportunities.

Party officials believed Trump could have been on track to win as much as 60% of the vote had he taken a more empathetic approach to the pandemic. Instead, he adopted a combative and dismissive attitude toward the science that guided most of his decisions in the election’s final weeks.

The party questioned Trump’s spending and messaging. The campaign spent untold millions on aggressive ads resembling WWE commercials blanketing TV, but none of them moved the needle. The ads were in many instances approved by Trump personally and aired on stations in Washington, targeted to an audience of one — the president — in a heavily Democratic city.

By early October, the RNC had had enough of the Trump campaign’s scattered message and decided to produce its own advertisements offering a more sober message on health care. The message tested better than anything the Trump campaign had done previously.

Despite their public confidence, Trump’s own staff seemed increasingly aware of the impending loss. In the final weeks of the campaign, White House staff offices began rotating in aides who had not yet been on Air Force One or not as frequently as others, to give them that experience while they still had the chance.

Trump himself was grappling with his fate in public.

“How the hell can we be tied?” he said at a rally in Carson City, Nevada.

___

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders knew his White House ambitions were over. Biden assumed a commanding lead in the Democratic primary by late March and the pandemic dashed any hopes of a comeback — or even a spirited exchange of ideas that could last until the summer convention.

But before he exited the race, the progressive icon wanted significant policy concessions on health care and education.

Sanders knew that Biden wouldn’t agree to support “Medicare for All.” The former vice-president had aggressively run against it during in the primary. But Sanders believed he could get Biden to agree to lower the age for Medicare eligibility.

Sanders wanted Biden to drop the age to 55 from the current 65. Senior staff from both sides hammered out a compromise, which was later sealed during a private conversation between Sanders and Biden. A few days after Sanders formally stepped aside, Biden announced that he supported lowering the Medicare age to 60.

“Based on the calls that the senator had with the vice-president, I think there was confidence they were serious about trying to have common ground — that progressives would not only be involved in the electoral process but also governing,” said Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ chief adviser.

For many Democrats, the scars of Sanders’ 2016 primary battle against Hillary Clinton had never really healed. Some argued Sanders didn’t do enough to support Clinton, damaging her in the general election against Trump. Progressives countered that the party didn’t take Sanders seriously and worked to thwart him.

Biden’s Medicare concession was an important step in building trust between the wings of the party. The relationship was further solidified after Biden agreed to form several policy committees that featured high-profile figures from opposing factions.

Among the participants on Biden’s climate committee: former Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of Sanders’ most vocal supporters. Biden didn’t issue the invitation to Ocasio-Cortez personally, but was fully on board with bringing her onto the panel.

She’d go on to become a consistent advocate for the 77-year-old establishment figure’s election, a stark contrast to the 2016 dynamics Clinton faced from the left flank.

___

Trump suddenly had an opportunity to divert attention from the pandemic.

A round of sometimes violent unrest exploded in Kenosha, Wisconsin, following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man, in August.

Some large cities contended with isolated instances of unrest during the summer as part of a broader movement against racial injustice and police violence toward Black Americans. But the events in Kenosha seemed different: The unrest was spreading to smaller cities and in a premier swing state, no less.

Trump had been roundly criticized after mostly peaceful protesters were forcibly removed from a street near the White House in June. But Kenosha fueled his call for “law and order,” the mantra championed by presidential candidates Richard Nixon and George Wallace in 1968.

Biden’s team worried that his consistent lead in critical Upper Midwest states could deteriorate if Trump’s appeal to the fears of white voters resonated. The focus on Kenosha peaked just as Trump hosted the Republican National Convention, drawing fairly positive reviews for delivering a program aimed at expanding his political coalition.

“It was a moment that could have gone sideways,” said Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield. “We made a strategic decision to take it head-on.”

On the very day he returned to campaigning after nearly six months at home, Biden delivered a fiery speech in Pennsylvania asking voters if they really believed they were safer under Trump’s leadership.

Biden highlighted the pandemic’s mounting death toll — more than 180,000 Americans at that time — and blamed Trump for causing the divisions that ignited the unrest in the first place.

“He can’t stop the violence because for years he’s fomented it,” Biden charged.

The direct attack on Trump’s “law and order” messaging was amplified by Democrats across the country who followed Biden’s lead. Within a matter of weeks, any momentum that Trump seemed to have coming out of his convention was forgotten.

___

“That was embarrassing for the country.”

Immediately after his first presidential debate against Trump, Biden shared his disgust about his opponent’s performance with family and senior staff in a hold room backstage where they dissected the most chaotic 90 minutes in modern presidential politics.

Biden long believed that the opening debate on Sept. 29 could be an opportunity for Trump to reshape the race, and Biden prepared accordingly. Biden and his team spent weeks getting ready.

No one was more meticulous than senior adviser Bob Bauer, a White House counsel under Obama who had played Sanders during Biden’s primary debate practice sessions and agreed to embrace the role of Trump.

Like a football coach preparing for a Super Bowl opponent, Bauer watched hundreds of hours of tape on Trump, studying every primary and debate performance from his 2016 campaign, and virtually every rally and news conference in the four years since.

By the time Bauer and Biden stood behind makeshift podiums for their first full 90-minute mock debate inside Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, Bauer had mastered the president’s style, his intonations, gestures and, perhaps most important, the specific attacks Trump was most likely to use and how he would deliver them.

Bauer was ruthless in the private sessions, leaning into deeply personal attacks about Biden’s family, his decision to step away from campaigning and the perception that he may not have the physical or mental strength to serve as president.

Yet no amount of preparation could truly prepare Biden for what he faced when the real moment came.

With more than 73 million people watching, a belligerent Trump badgered Biden and moderator Chris Wallace with a ceaseless flood of interruptions that rendered the high-profile debate almost unwatchable. Biden didn’t have any notable stumbles, but he lost his patience at times and slapped at Trump with unplanned insults.

“Will you shut up, man?” the Democrat said at one point.

The line would later inspire one of the campaign’s bestselling T-shirts.

In the hold room afterward, Biden gathered with his wife, his sister Valerie Biden Owens and a couple of senior aides. They believed Biden had clearly bested his opponent, but he was concerned that Trump had debased the debate process itself, something he considered a sacred institution in U.S. politics.

“It’s disappointing that the president of the United States would act like that on the debate stage,” Biden told them.

___

In the end, nothing Trump could say or do distracted voters from his fundamental inability to control the pandemic — or even take it seriously as the death toll surged past 232,000 Americans on the eve of the election.

As Biden stayed laser-focused on the health threat, Trump and his top lieutenants fought to convince Americans that the pandemic was almost over. Five days before Election Day, Donald Trump Jr. said on Fox News that coronavirus deaths had dropped to “almost nothing.”

That same day, the United States reported more than 90,000 new confirmed COVID-19 infections, another single-day record. The day after Election Day, more than 100,000 Americans tested positive for the first time.

Still, the president kept on mocking Biden’s cautiousness.

“When you’re president of the United States, you can’t lock yourself into a basement,” Trump told thousands of Pennsylvania supporters crammed into an outdoor venue, most without masks, the weekend before the election.

Despite the large crowds, people close to Trump were aware that his presidency was hanging by a thread.

The president boarded Air Force One in Miami to start his final day of travel seemingly in a bad mood. Holding a red MAGA hat, he offered a soft wave to reporters but didn’t do a customary wave for cameras at the top of the steps.

At the first of five events that day, he wasn’t showing much confidence when asked about Wisconsin, where coronavirus spiked to a new record high on Election Day: “I could lose it, I could win it,” Trump said.

Biden, too, was on edge as he watched election returns at home in Wilmington that initially showed a much closer race than pre-election polls had suggested. But he became increasingly confident as the vote counting stretched into the weekend.

He was sitting in his backyard with his wife enjoying an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon when the excited screams of his grandchildren from inside the house confirmed his victory.

In the end, the president-elect earned more than 74 million votes, setting a record and besting Trump by more than 4 million votes nationally. He won by flipping states Trump previously carried in the Midwest and the Southwest and he was even narrowly ahead in Georgia, a Deep South state no Democrat had claimed in nearly three decades.

Trump pledged to fight the results, making wild and unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. But his inner circle was in disarray as news emerged that his chief of staff had been infected with the coronavirus.

Biden was committed as ever to his health experts’ recommendations even in victory. He addressed the nation Saturday night from an outdoor stage in a Wilmington parking lot facing supporters gathered in their cars for a drive-in celebration.

Biden walked on stage for the first time as president-elect wearing a mask.

“Our work begins with getting COVID under control,” he said. He later added: “We will lead not only by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.”

___

Peoples reported from New York, Miller reported from Washington and Kinnard from Columbia, South Carolina. Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Brian Slodysko, Jonathan Lemire and Alexandra Jaffe in Washington contributed to this report.

Steve Peoples, Bill Barrow, Zeke Miller And Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press

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Politics updates: Biden twists his ankle playing with dog; Trump mocked for 'I came up with vaccines' claim – USA TODAY

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Matthew Brown

David Jackson
 
| USA TODAY

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Trump says finally he will take part in peaceful transfer of power

President Trump acknowledged for the first time that he would leave the White House when the Electoral College casts its formal vote for Joe Biden.

USA TODAY’S coverage of the 2020 election and President-elect Joe Biden’s transition continues this week as he continues to roll out his picks for top positions in his administration and states continue to certify their vote counts. 

President Donald Trump has yet to concede the race but his administration has cleared the way for Biden’s team to have access to federal resources and briefings during the transition.

Be sure to refresh this page often to get the latest information on the election and the transition.

Biden sprained ankle, will continue to be monitored

After a two-hour examination with doctors in Stanton, Del., President-elect Joe Biden was found to have sprained his ankle while playing with his dog Sunday afternoon. 

The president-elect had “no obvious fracture” in his right foot but would be getting an additional CT scan and further examinations tomorrow, according to his doctors.

“Follow-up CT scan confirmed hairline fractures of President-elect Biden’s lateral and intermediate cuneiform bones, which are in the mid-foot,” a statement from Biden’s doctors reads.

The president-elect will likely need to use a walking boot for several weeks.

Reporters were not allowed near the president-elect as he left Delaware Orthopaedic Specialists, though pool reporters at a distance said Biden appeared to whistle and gave a thumbs up to the group.

– Matthew Brown

Biden picks all women for White House communications team 

President-elect Joe Biden on Sunday named his White House senior communications staff, choosing a team of all women led by Jen Psaki, a veteran of President Barack Obama’s administration, as his first press secretary. 

Psaki, who wore many hats under Obama including White House communications director, has overseen the confirmations team for Biden’s transition team.

Biden also tapped top campaign aides Kate Bedingfield as White House communications director and Symone Sanders as senior adviser and chief spokesperson for Vice President Kamala Harris. Bedingfield worked as deputy campaign manager and communications director for the Biden-Harris Campaign. Sanders served as a campaign senior advisor.

Other communications hires are: Elizabeth Alexander, communications director for first lady Jill Biden; Ashley Etienne, communications director for Harris; Karine Jean-Pierre, principal deputy press secretary; and Pili Tobar, deputy White House communications director.

“I am proud to announce today the first senior White House communications team comprised entirely of women. These qualified, experienced communicators bring diverse perspectives to their work and a shared commitment to building this country back better,” Biden said in a statement. 

– Joey Garrison and Bart Jansen 

Biden twists his ankle while playing with his dog 

President-elect Joe Biden slipped and twisted his ankle on Sunday while playing with his dog Major.

“Out of an abundance of caution, he will be examined this afternoon by an orthopedist,” the president-elect’s team told reporters.

Biden is currently at the Delaware Orthopedic Specialists in Newark where he arrived a little after 4 p.m. EST. His office provided an update on his condition around 6 p.m., after not allowing reporters a view of the president-elect entering the facility. 

According to a statement from his doctor, Kevin O’Connor, Biden sustained a sprain of his right foot and while “initial X-rays are reassuring that there is no obvious fracture,” he’ll be receiving a CT scan for further review.

Biden was playing with Major, one of his two German shepherds, according to his office. The Biden family adopted Major in 2018, 10 years after acquiring their first dog, Champ.

The Bidens have said they plan to bring their dogs to the White House. Major, who was adopted from the Delaware Humane Association, will be the first rescue dog to live in the White House. The Bidens have also announced plans to get a cat when they move to the White House.

– Matthew Brown, USA TODAY and Brandon Holveck, Delaware News Journal

Kamala Harris laughs off question about facing President Trump again in 2024

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris waved away a question about whether she and President-elect Joe Biden “will be ready to face” President Donald Trump again in a 2024 redux of this year’s election.

“Please,” Harris said of the question, chuckling at a gaggle of reporters.

After a historically bitter political campaign that was at times overshadowed by a global pandemic and nationwide protests, 2024 may seem like a distant prospect for many Americans. Yet many Democrats and Republicans have made moves indicating they are already preparing for another acrid election in four years.

Trump himself has said he’s interested in a 2024 bid to reclaim the Oval Office, according to Axios, Bloomberg and the Washington Post.

A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted Nov. 21-23 also found that 53% of Republican voters would vote for Trump again in 2024 if he chose to run. Various polls have also found that most Trump voters have not yet accepted the legitimacy of Trump’s loss.

An Economist/YouGov poll conducted after Biden’s victory was projected found that 86% of Trump voters did not think Biden’s win was legitimate.

Biden, 78, will be the oldest president ever to take office, which has fueled speculation he may not seek a second term. Harris, 56, would likely be seen as he early frontrunner for the Democratic nomination should Biden not seek reelection.

– Matthew Brown 

Republican Congressman reclaims seat as GOP flips 11th House seat

Republican Congressman David Valadao defeated Democrat T.J. Cox in California’s 21st district, The Associated Press reported Friday. The victory is the 11th seat Republicans have wrested from incumbent Democrats in the House of Representatives in the 2020 election. 

Valadao’s victory comes as down-ballot Republicans outperformed President Donald Trump across the country, even in solidly blue California

The district, primarily situated in the San Joaquin Valley, slightly favors Democrats, according to the Cook Political Report. Valadao won the seat by emphasizing agricultural issues, which are central to the district’s economy. Though he endorsed Trump in 2020, he is only tepid in his support for the president.

This year, Valadao won the district by a little under 2,000 votes. The district is one of at least three Republicans have reclaimed from the 2018 Democratic “blue wave” that swept the Golden State.

Cox, who won the seat in 2018 by 862 votes, has not yet conceded the election.

– Matthew Brown 

Trump mocked for claim that ‘I came up with vaccines’

On his way out of office, President Donald Trump is going out of his way to take credit for emerging COVID-19 vaccines – to the point where he claims to have developed them himself.

“I came up with vaccines that people didn’t think we’d have for five years,” Trump said during his phone interview Sunday on Fox News, later adding that people would try to credit President-elect Joe Biden.

The Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed” has helped, but doctors and drug makers have been the ones who developed the actual vaccines that should be available for public use soon.

Jonathan Reiner, professor of Medicine and Surgery at George Washington University, said Trump sometimes sounds like King Louis XIV proclaiming “‘l’état, c’est moi’ – the state is me.”

“The PfizerBioNTech and the Moderna vaccines were created by brilliant and dedicated scientists and clinical trial-ists, as well as thousands of people who volunteered to be vaccinated for the studies,” Reiner said. “The glory goes to them.”

– David Jackson

Sen. Blunt refuses to call Biden president-elect, echoes election misinformation

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., declined to acknowledge Joe Biden was “president-elect” during an interview Sunday with CNN’s “State of the Union.” The refusal came as President Donald Trump and many elected Republicans continue to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

“The president-elect technically has to be elected president by the electors. That happens in the middle of December,”  Blunt correctly said, sidestepping the reality that there is no doubt the electors will choose Biden as the next president of the United States.

“There is no official job president-elect,” Blunt said, arguing that the distinction was a “straw man” created by the media. But in 2016, Blunt’s office published a press release “congratulating President-elect Donald Trump” the day after the election and long before the electors met. 

Federal and state courts have found the Trump campaign’s claims of fraud to be unfounded. While Blunt’s comments casting doubt on Biden’s status as president-elect echo the Trump campaign’s attacks on the legitimacy of the election, he did not go so far as to claim the election was stolen, as Trump has baselessly contended. 

“I don’t think it was rigged but I do think there was some things that were done that shouldn’t have been done,” Blunt said without specifying what potential election wrongdoing he was referencing. “And I think there was some element of voter fraud as there is in every election. But I don’t have any reason to believe that the numbers are there that would have made that difference.”

Election officials across the country have confirmed that there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the election. A USA TODAY investigation found no instances of voter fraud in the swing states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Claims elsewhere in the country were also investigated and debunked.

Blunt predicted Trump would remain active in Republican politics.

“I think there is a big role for President Trump. And I hope he embraces that and looks at how you move to whatever comes next for him, assuming that this election works out the way it appears it will,” he said. 

– Matthew Brown 

Donald Trump doesn’t know when his election protests will end

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump continued to protest the election during a broadcast interview Sunday, but again provided no proof – and would not say when he might drop election lawsuits and challenges that have met nothing but defeat.

Trump said his complaints might last past the Dec. 14 vote of the Electoral College and even the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

“My mind will not change in six months,” Trump told Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” during his first broadcast interview since Election Day.

A steady stream of judges and election officials across the country, including Republicans, have declared the elections fairly run, and criticized Trump’s legal team for filing specious complaints.

In rejecting a lawsuit in Pennsylvania, a federal appeals court said Friday that “charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”

Lawsuits and election challenges have met similar fates in Michigan, Arizona, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Georgia.

In a Fox telephone conversation that lasted 46 minutes, Trump criticized Republicans who have disputed his claims of election fraud.

That includes Georgia, the site of two Senate run-offs that will determine control of the U.S. Senate. While Trump plans to campaign in Georgia for incumbent Republican senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, even as he blasted GOP officials like Gov. Brian Kemp.

“The governor’s done nothing,” Trump said. “He’s done absolutely nothing. I’m ashamed that I endorsed him.”

Trump’s comments throughout the interview amounted to little more than rants, complaints, and evidence-free conspiracy theories.

“He’s all over the place,” said Bradley Moss, a national security attorney. “He’s got nothing, he knows it’s all ending and he’s ranting to anyone who will listen.”

Other analysts hit the softball questioning of Fox host Maria Bartiromo, some noting that Trump is reportedly thinking about buying his own news network.

“@MariaBartiromo auditioning for a job on Newmax this morning,” tweeted former President Bill Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart.

– David Jackson

Wisconsin recount ends, Biden gains net of 87 votes

MADISON, Wis. – A partial recount boosted President-elect Joe Biden’s victory by 87 votes Sunday, and President Donald Trump said he was preparing a lawsuit to overturn the results.

The completion of Dane County’s retallying of the vote came two days after Milwaukee County finished its recount.

Biden netted 132 votes in Milwaukee County, and Trump got 45 votes in Dane County. Taken together, that increased Biden’s statewide margin to 21,695. 

Trump’s campaign paid $3 million to cover the cost of the recounts in Wisconsin’s two most Democratic counties so he could pursue a long-shot lawsuit to claim the state’s 10 electoral votes.

Trump on Saturday tweeted that he would file a lawsuit in Wisconsin by Tuesday, when the state Elections Commission is set to certify the results.

“The Wisconsin recount is not about finding mistakes in the count, it is about finding people who have voted illegally, and that case will be brought after the recount is over, on Monday or Tuesday,” Trump wrote. 

– Patrick Marley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Retired Joint Chiefs chair: Iran scientist assassination weakens diplomacy

Retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen expressed concern on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” that the recent assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist will “makes things much more challenging” for the incoming Biden administration to negotiate with the country.

Mullen – the nation’s highest-ranking military officer from 2007 to 2011 – called the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who oversaw Iran’s nuclear program for over a decade, “a significant event,” one that could significantly hobble U.S.-Iranian relations just as President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Mullen’s concerns were shared by retired Navy Adm. William McRaven, who told ABC News’ “This Week” that the move reinforces the “difficult challenge” Biden faces in negotiating with Iran.

Iran was already unlikely to be receptive to a new agreement with a Biden administration after its experience with President Donald Trump, who pulled out of an agreement negotiated during the Obama administration to slow Iran’s nuclear weapons development, McRaven said. 

“Now by attacking their nuclear scientists and by really escalating this effort, the Iranians are going to be more compelled to get a bomb quicker,” and Iran will be more hesitant to join any future deal, McRaven predicted. 

Mullen likened the move to Trump’s decision to assassinate Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. That move enraged the Iranian government and public alike, and led experts to fear the prospect of open war. 

Fakhrizadeh was “not only the brains but also the passion behind” Iran’s nuclear program, Mullen said. Biden, who has said he’d reopen talks with Iran, will now likely face a country further embittered and resistant to diplomacy.

“I’m hopeful that President-elect Biden can actually reach in and calm the waters but I think this heightens tensions significantly,” Mullen said. 

– Matthew Brown 

Progressives aren’t going to give Biden a honeymoon

After helping to mobilize election turnout of young people and left-leaning Democrats, progressive leaders want to hold the Biden administration to promises made on the campaign trail: addressing climate change, combatting the COVID-19 pandemic and offering student debt relief. 

“This isn’t 2015 anymore. This isn’t 2010 anymore. It’s not 2005 anymore,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic socialist from New York, said at a rally with progressives last week. “The movement got us here. You all got us a seat at the table.”

But as progressives lean into their policy demands, one roadblock remains: Who will control the Senate?

Two runoffs in Georgia will determine whether Republicans maintain control of the chamber when the new Congress is sworn in in January. If the Republican majority holds, not only will it be difficult for Democrats to pass legislation, it will likely mean the progressive wish list will be left on the backburner. 

– Rebecca Morin 

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Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante releases graphic novel detailing political journey – CKPGToday.ca

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“For me the graphic novel format was always what I wanted,” she said in a recent interview at her publisher’s offices.

“I think it’s accessible, it can be fun, and I love graphic novels myself.”

The book is based on Plante’s own sketches and anecdotes she began jotting down in 2013, during her first run for a seat on city council. Four years later, she became the first woman elected mayor of Montreal after her surprise defeat of experienced incumbent Denis Coderre.

While the writing and drawings were initially a form of self-care to help her “stay balanced,” she said she eventually came to see that her story might inspire others, especially young girls.

“I wanted to show, and maybe tell, people it’s OK not to have all the keys and codes to do something you think would be a good thing to do or you believe in,” she said.

“Just go for it.”

She began working with Cote-Lacroix on evenings and weekends, taking about two years to finalize the story and illustrations.

Plante said that, much like her character in the book, she had been looking for a new challenge before her entry into politics. Then she received a phone call from left-wing municipal party Projet Montreal, which was looking to diversify its slate of candidates.

In the book, Plante doesn’t shy away from the challenges faced by women who put themselves in the public eye. At one point, one of her character’s posters is defaced by sexist graffiti. In another, her character’s husband gets effusive praise for helping to care for the couple’s children — something the book points out is a given for female political spouses. 

While the book “won’t change sexism,” Plante said she hopes it will help highlight the double standards women face.

Three years into her mandate, Plante has had a bumpy year, marked by a global pandemic that has devastated the city’s economy and criticism over her administration’s failure to implement its big visions for affordable housing and transportation. She has also faced anger over what some have described as an anti-car agenda, which includes building bike lanes, eliminating parking spots and temporarily closing some streets to vehicle traffic to create “sanitary corridors.” 

At times, that criticism has escalated to the level of death threats.

While some criticism is to be expected, Plante attributes much of the public anger directed her way to the anxiety wrought by the pandemic.

“Not to minimize their actions of being very aggressive, violent or doing death threats, but I like to hope in the future, when people are less stressed and in a better position, things will calm down,” she said.

She also faced criticism earlier this year over her novel itself, with some high-profile commentators questioning her decision to “draw cartoons” as the city was embroiled in the COVID-19 crisis.

Plante dismissed this as unfounded, especially since she says the writing process wrapped up in late 2019.

“People were just kind of trashing the book (without) even reading it, which I thought was sad, because it wasn’t about the content, it was about criticizing the author,” she said. However, she did push back the book’s publication for a few months when the pandemic’s second wave began.

Plante said she would still recommend politics to young people who want to make a difference, even as she acknowledges it’s a “tough” career that comes with unusual levels of public exposure. 

“But hopefully people see in the book, the love that you get from your volunteers, it’s a community, it’s people working together,” she said.

“It’s worth it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2020.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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Joe Biden’s Catholic faith has shaped his life and approach to politics. How will it shape his presidency?

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Written By Jazmine Ulloa

 

Edited By Harry Miller

 

 

President-elect Joe Biden left St. Joseph on the Brandywine church in Wilmington, Del., on Nov. 8.ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — On the morning of one of the most consequential days in his life, and maybe the nation’s history, too, Joe Biden attended Mass at the unassuming Roman Catholic church near his Delaware home.

The trip wasn’t a photo-op, just part of the normal routine for a man who will become only the second Catholic ever to be US president.

Biden always carries a rosary in his pocket and laces speeches with scripture. On the campaign trail, he was known to stop for a moment of quiet prayer, sometimes alone, sometimes with someone he had just met. Throughout his political career, it was not uncommon for Biden to attend a Saturday morning event with churchgoers and still make an evening service, his longtime friends and staffers say.

Indeed, his central pitch to voters as he paved his path to the White House this year carried a religious overtone: Americans were in “a battle for the soul of the nation.”

“I don’t think you go to Mass on Election Day to make a political statement,” said Margaret McGuinness, a professor of religion at La Salle University in Philadelphia. “We don’t have a tradition of that in this country. I think you go because you care and it means a lot to you.”

Despite breaking with Catholic doctrine on key issues such as abortion, Biden is expected to draw on a branch of his faith that is strongly rooted in social justice and reform for his governing philosophy. Rather than being in conflict, religious observers say these beliefs complement his worldview and permeate his deal-making approach to politics — a strength, supporters say, as he attempts to unify a splintered country.

But much like the rest of America, Catholics are polarized. Biden will have to build trust and bridge divides as he seeks to bring people of faith into the Democratic fold, despite those who see his desire for compromise and calls for unity as belonging to a bygone era.

“Anytime you see the good in people, you get called naive, and Joe has seen a lot of good in people,” said Sister Carol Keehan, the former president of the Catholic Health Association, a ministry of the Roman Catholic Church that encompasses hundreds of hospitals and health care facilities.

Biden’s comfort with his faith — and his willingness to talk about it — contrasts with most presidents and certainly the current one, historians said.

McGuinness often starts her lessons on John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president, by noting that his wife, Jacqueline, once called him “a bad Catholic.” Kennedy, who won the White House after years of anti-Catholic sentiment, was so self-conscious about appearing to be influenced by the pope that he gave a speech during the 1960 campaign before a group of Protestant ministers pledging to resign should he ever be forced to “either violate my conscience or violate the national interest.”

President Trump has spoken little of his own faith, rarely goes to church, and is seen by many as morally flawed, even among his most ardent Christian followers. He was roundly criticized last summer after law enforcement officers forcibly cleared mostly peaceful racial justice protesters near the White House so he could stage a photo-op with a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Biden, meanwhile, has long threaded his religious beliefs with his politics and could be more explicit still in how he blends those principles with his governing priorities, historians said.

In that vein, Biden is like Jimmy Carter, who saw his deep Baptist faith as enriching his presidency, not interfering with it, said Thomas H. Groome, professor in theology and religious education at Boston College.

Biden’s “whole life is permeated with the values and especially the social values of his faith,” Groome said. And yet, “he also knows he can’t impose the moral teachings of his faith unless people are willing to embrace them.”

In a 2015 interview with late-night TV host Stephen Colbert, Biden described his brand of Irish Catholicism, cultivated through his family and Catholic grade school education, not so much as a practice or a system of beliefs but as “a place you can go” and that brings “just an enormous sense of solace.”

“Some of that relates to ritual, some of that relates to this comfort of what you’ve done your whole life,” Biden said, whether by saying a rosary or being alone with your thoughts in a crowded Mass. “All the good things that have happened have happened around the culture of my religion and theology of learning.”

Not that he hadn’t grappled with doubt. “The faith doesn’t always stick with you,” he said, nodding to members of the audience, who like himself, had experienced tragedy.

Delaware Senator Chris Coons, who first met Biden as a young lawyer more than 30 years ago, remembers when Biden was not so open about his faith or his personal losses. Coons said Biden rarely spoke of the car crash that took the lives of his first wife, Neilia, and his infant daughter, Naomi, near Christmas in 1972.

Another tragedy — the death of his son Beau, from brain cancer in 2015 — changed that, Coons said.

“When something shattering happens to you, you either turn away from God or you turn toward God, and Joe, after Beau’s death, has demonstrably turned toward God,” Coons said.

Like others close to Biden, Coons has seen the president-elect in his most pensive moments grasp the rosary beads that once belonged to Beau. Biden still carries a small rosary in his pocket, which theologians such as Groome describe as “a very concrete way that Catholics have of taking their faith out of their heads and bringing it into their hands.”

In recent months, Biden’s motorcade has remained a regular sight at St. Joseph’s on the Brandywine, an unadorned church in Greenville, Del., with walls of pale yellow stucco, white trimming and silver steeple. Neilia, Naomi, and Beau are buried in the church’s cemetery.

Like many Irish Catholics, Biden’s faith is more grounded in family and local parishes than in strict adherence to the hierarchies of the Roman Catholic Church. He attended Catholic schools in his hometown of Scranton, Pa., and in Wilmington, Del., where his family moved when he was 10. Nuns and priests were a constant presence in Scranton, where he would roam the streets with friends while on weekend visits with his grandparents. It was there where his grandfather taught him to pray the rosary and “church always felt like an extension of home,” Biden wrote in his 2007 memoir, “Promises to Keep.”

He briefly considered entering the seminary to become a priest. His religious studies were steeped in Catholic social teaching, a doctrine that emerged in the 1890s and evolved into 10 principles centered on social justice and the common good, the most central being that all people are created with inherent dignity.

Under these guiding rules, it is not enough to feed the hungry, theologians said, but to also address the cause of their hunger. Biden spoke of this in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor in 2007.

“The animating principle of my faith, as taught to me by church and home, was that the cardinal sin was abuse of power,” he said. “It was not only required as a good Catholic to abhor and avoid abuse of power, but to do something to end that abuse.”

Still, Biden, like other Democratic Catholic politicians, has been scrutinized for his stances on issues such as abortion, LGBTQ rights, and so-called religious freedom. Breaking from traditional Catholic teaching, Biden in 2012 became the first national leader to support same-sex marriage and has said he believes “reproductive rights are a constitutional right” that should be accessible to every woman. Last summer, he reversed his decades-long support for a measure barring federal funding for most abortions after facing intense pressure from Democratic rivals.

For a hardening faction of conservative Catholics and evangelicals, there has been a growing sense of perceived persecution. This has come as Pope Francis — the first pontiff to hail from the Americas — steers the church in a more liberal direction on issues such climate change, poverty, and the enduring impact of colonization on marginalized people. Historically, there has been a divide among Catholics between those who believe in strict accordance with Catholic doctrine and those who want the church to use the teachings of Jesus Christ to put the needs of the poor and oppressed first.

“In the end, it is a difference of opinion on what we will be judged on when the time comes,” McGuinness said. “It is a difference of opinion on what it means to be a good Catholic.”

In the US, more than half of Catholics now believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to the Pew Research Center. But their views diverge sharply along political lines: Some 55 percent of Catholic Republicans say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, while 64 percent of Catholic Democrats believe the opposite, the Pew research has found.

Biden has long grappled with this evolution. During negotiations over the Affordable Care Act, where the Obama administration had committed to not letting federal funds be used for abortion, Biden pushed to ensure that pregnant women had access to complete prenatal coverage to care for their babies after their birth. It was this sort of understanding of human dignity, Keehan said, that Biden often brought to legislative work to aid the poor, low-income workers, and even middle-class families.

“You can’t say everyone should have good health care, good nutrition, and not do anything about it, particularly when you have the kind of power and influence he held,” she said.

Biden sought to imbue the same principles into his presidential campaign. He and his running mate, Kamala Harris — a Black Baptist from a Hindu family who is married to a Jewish man — made direct appeals to people of faith centered on common good values.

“Faith was integrated across the campaign, not just siloed into one outreach department,” said Josh Dickson, the Biden campaign’s national faith engagement director.

“What stands out to me is … how his authenticity in his faith was just so clear,” Dickson said.

For Catholics such as Nichole Flores, motivated to volunteer for Biden after the Trump administration split apart migrant families at the border, it was the first time they felt their faith was truly seen by the Democratic Party. She still doesn’t agree with the party’s stance on abortion, but said she appreciates Biden’s Catholic approach to so many other issues, including immigration and wealth distribution.

“One thing I think he brings to the conversation is a model for the diverse ways that Catholics live out our values in public life,” said Flores, an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia.

Another Biden volunteer, Grant Tabler, 22, said he came to see his vote for Trump in 2016 as likely “the greatest regret of his life,” one that now compels him to “fight for some sense of equality for all.”

He first heard of Biden in a critical way — when friends and family would argue the former vice president should not receive Holy Communion. But he soon realized that Biden “is pro-life, pro-protecting the migrant, pro-protecting the poor,” Tabler said.

Catholics make up about a fifth of US adults, and exit polls showed they split almost evenly between Biden and Trump; the Republican retained support from conservative evangelical Christian leaders and Catholics for his positions on defending religious freedom and opposing abortion, and for packing the courts with conservative judges.

Some lamented that Biden did not do more to appeal to voters of faith beyond the key battleground states, such as in Texas. “If he came and talked to Latinos about his faith …shared his passion and plans for his future, he would have won” the Rio Grande Valley, said Antonio Arellano, the interim executive director of Jolt, the largest Latino progressive organization in the state.

The political divide among Catholics was clear this month when Biden received a congratulatory call from Pope Francis while Trump was still refusing to concede. Days later, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, announced a working group to analyze Biden’s support for abortion rights, and experts said this effort could also consider whether to deny him communion.

Biden isn’t likely to be deterred in his calls for unity. In his victory speech on Nov. 7, he turned to the Christian hymn “On Eagle’s Wings,” calling for “faith in America and in each other, with a love of country — and a thirst for justice” in the quest to be a better nation.

“So I remember, as my grandpa said when I walked out of his home when I was a kid up in Scranton, he said: ‘Joey, keep the faith,’” Biden said. “And our grandmother, when she was alive, she yelled: ‘No, Joey, spread it.’ Spread the faith.”


Reach Jazmine Ulloa at jazmine.ulloa@globe.com or on Twitter: @jazmineulloa.

Source: – The Boston Globe

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