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JIM VIBERT: 40 years ago today, Alexa McDonough changed Nova Scotia politics for good – The Journal Pioneer

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Politics in Nova Scotia changed, for the better and for good, 40 years ago today.

On Nov. 16, 1980, at the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax, Nova Scotia New Democrats elected Alexa McDonough their leader, making her the first woman to lead a major political party anywhere in Canada.

Hopes were high, as they always are when a party chooses a new leader, but no one could have predicted the remarkable political career that launched that day. It would span more than 27 years, including 14 leading the provincial NDP and another seven leading the federal party.

It was a career that blazed a trail followed by dozens of women into the Nova Scotia legislature and that inspired countless others to pursue public office.

“When I was elected leader of the Nova Scotia NDP in 1980, my goal was to build a better province where equity was a given and choosing a woman leader would no longer be shocking news,” Alexa said in a statement released today on her behalf by the provincial NDP, to mark the anniversary.

She’d run federally before, but now Alexa – the first name was, and remains, all that Nova Scotians of a certain age need – was in politics all the way, and the early years were hard years.

The party she inherited was, at the risk of understatement, in some disarray.

In 1978 the NDP had elected four MLAs, the most ever, all from industrial Cape Breton. But two years later, longtime leader Jeremy Akerman quit abruptly, causing his colourful seatmate, Paul MacEwan, to erupt publicly about “Trotskyite” elements lurking in the party.

Considerable internal convulsions followed, eventually resulting in MacEwan’s ouster from the party.

Halifax Chebucto win

Then, in the 1981 provincial election, the party’s two remaining Cape Breton MLAs, Buddy MacEachern and Len Arsenault – the two men Alexa had defeated to win the leadership – lost their seats.

But, in that same election, the party finally won a seat on the mainland, Alexa’s seat, Halifax Chebecto.

She took her seat as the only New Democrat and the only woman in the house. Just two women had been elected to the legislature before her, Conservative Gladys Porter in the ‘60s and Liberal Melinda MacLean in the ’70s.

So in the early 1980s, the legislature was still a male bastion and, for the most part, Alexa found it an inhospitable environment for a woman.

Years later, after she retired from politics, she recalled that time in the house:

“It certainly fuelled my passion for recruiting other women into political life. I’ve spent a good chunk of the past 30 years doing that … There was no women’s washroom in the chamber (in 1981), which suggested they never thought women should be there.”

Alexa worked tirelessly to repair her fractured party, and slowly but surely earned public attention and approval by addressing issues the other parties generally eschewed – social justice issues like poverty, domestic violence and racism.

Federal leader

In 1995, Alexa sought and won the leadership of the federal NDP. She left the provincial party in far better shape than she found it, as subsequent events would prove.

In her first election leading the federal NDP, the party regained all-important party status in Parliament, adding a dozen seats, including an historic breakthrough in the Maritimes.

Alexa won her Halifax seat by whopping 11,000 votes and her long political coattails helped another five New Democrats win seats in Nova Scotia and two more in New Brunswick.

Winning six of Nova Scotia’s 11 seats in Parliament was an unprecedented accomplishment for the NDP, and a harbinger of things to come.

In the provincial election a year later, the NDP, then led by Robert Chisholm, came within a seat of forming the government, tying the incumbent Liberals with 19 seats each, but the Liberals retained the government.

It would be another decade before the NDP broke through to form a government in Nova Scotia. When it did, in 2009, many members of that new government traced their inspiration to enter public life to Alexa.

In her statement, she expresses pride in the work the NDP has done for women in leadership roles – two women have led the provincial party since she did – and pride that four of the five New Democrats in the Nova Scotia legislature are women.

“A diversity of voices at the table builds strength and ensures we continue to move forward, building a province where people can expect something better from their government,” she said.

Measured by electoral wins, Alexa wasn’t the most successful Nova Scotia politician of her generation, but she was almost certainly the most popular.

She kicked the door wide open for women to enter the political life of the province, and today there are more women in the legislature than ever. It’s a better place for that.

But, as Alexa would no doubt tell you, with women holding 16 of the 51 seats in the house, there’s still more work to do.

Journalist and writer Jim Vibert has worked as a communications advisor to five Nova Scotia governments.

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A Gathering Political Storm Hits Georgia, With Trump on the Way – The New York Times

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A Gathering Political Storm Hits Georgia, With Trump on the Way

With two crucial Senate seats up for grabs, Mike Pence and Barack Obama joined the fray in support of their party’s candidates, and President Trump is headed there on Saturday.

Vice President Mike Pence held a rally in support of Senators David Perdue, left, and Kelly Loeffler in Savannah, Ga., on Friday.
Credit…Spencer Platt/Getty Images
  • Dec. 4, 2020, 7:22 p.m. ET

ATLANTA — Some of the biggest names in national politics jumped into the fiercely contested runoffs for two Georgia Senate seats on Friday, even as a second recount showed that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had maintained his lead in the state and Republicans braced for a visit by President Trump, who has railed against his loss there with baseless claims of fraud.

With Mr. Trump set to campaign for the two Republican incumbents, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, on Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence and former President Barack Obama held dueling events to underscore the vital stakes in the special elections: If both Republicans are defeated, control of the Senate will shift to Democrats just as Mr. Biden moves into the Oval Office.

Mr. Obama appeared virtually at a turn-out-the-vote event for Jon Ossoff, the Democrat facing Mr. Perdue, and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, Ms. Loeffler’s opponent, and spoke of his frustration in seeing his initiatives blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate when he was in office. “If the Senate is controlled by Republicans who are interested in obstruction and gridlock, rather than progress and helping people, they can block just about anything,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Pence — with Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler by his side — received a Covid-19 briefing at the Atlanta headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and said later at a rally for the Republican candidates that “we’re going to save the Senate, and then we’re going to save America.”

A second recount of the presidential vote in Georgia has finished, according to the Secretary of State website, showing Mr. Biden ahead by about 12,000 votes with 100 percent of the counties reporting.

New campaign financial reports filed late Thursday showed a staggering influx of money into the state in the first days of runoffs that were expected to set spending records, with more than $300 million booked in television, radio and digital ads, according to data from AdImpact, an ad-tracking firm. Media buyers said the price of ads was soaring, especially for super PACs, to unseen heights.

The Senate races are playing out at a hyperpartisan moment in American politics that has led to a civil war among Georgia Republicans divided over whether to support Mr. Trump as he persists with false assertions that the election was stolen from him. In Georgia and elsewhere, the president’s lawyers remain engaged in a failing, last-minute effort to throw the election to Mr. Trump.

Even as he tweeted this week that he wanted “a big David and Kelly WIN,” Mr. Trump called Brian Kemp, the state’s Republican governor, “hapless” for failing to work to overturn the election results, while also criticizing Georgia’s top election official, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. His sustained assault on Georgia’s voting system prompted an extraordinary rebuke this week from another high-ranking elections official, who warned of violent threats against poll workers and publicly pleaded with the president to cool down his conspiratorial rhetoric.

On Friday, State Senator Elena Parent, a Democrat on the judiciary subcommittee, which met on Thursday, said that she had been the target of violent, anonymous threats that appeared on a public internet chat room.

The president’s appearance in Valdosta, near the Florida border, on Saturday evening comes after a concerted campaign by his advisers and Republican lawmakers to convince him that his presence is vital to increasing turnout among his supporters. Initially reluctant, the president agreed to hold the rally after being told that victories by the Republican Senate candidates would help prove his contention that his own win in Georgia was stolen from him, according to aides familiar with the conversations.

Ms. Loeffler, one of the wealthiest members of the Senate, put $23 million of her own money into her campaign to get to the runoff.
Credit…Pool photo by Alyssa Pointer

But some Republicans in Georgia and Washington are fearful that Mr. Trump will go off-script, and potentially attack Mr. Kemp or Mr. Raffensperger. Party officials also worry that the president’s claims of fraud could backfire, undermining turnout by convincing Republican voters that the special elections are rigged against them anyway.

L. Lin Wood, a lawyer and Republican supporter of Mr. Trump, and Sidney Powell, a lawyer who has filed lawsuits on the president’s behalf, urged Georgians Wednesday not to vote “unless your vote is secure.”

That same day, a number of prominent Georgia Republicans, including former Gov. Nathan Deal, signed an open letter in which they warned that “the debate surrounding the state’s electoral system has made some within our party consider whether voting in the coming runoff election matters.”

The leaders said that the party needed to focus on winning the two Senate seats, or risk turning the Senate over to a Democratic Party that “wishes to fundamentally alter the fabric of our nation into something unrecognizable.”

Some senior Republicans in Washington are doing little to hide their concern about the damage that they believe Mr. Wood and Ms. Powell are inflicting.

“It’s encouraging the president is going down there to rally the troops, because I know there’s some inconsistent messages being sent to his base supporters,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas.

Chip Lake, a Georgia-based Republican strategist who most recently worked for Representative Doug Collins — who unsuccessfully vied in November for Ms. Loeffler’s Senate seat — said Friday that Mr. Trump was facing “one of the biggest political speeches the president’s ever had to make, because the stakes are that high.”

“If we have any portion of our base that might decide to boycott this election for any reason whatsoever, then we might be handing over the Senate to Democratic control,” Mr. Lake said.

Although a hand-recount of the state’s five million votes reaffirmed that Mr. Biden had indeed won the Georgia election, Mr. Trump’s campaign demanded a second machine recount. Fulton County, which includes much of Atlanta and is the state’s most populous, certified its results on Friday. As of Friday evening, state election officials had not responded to queries about when they would officially announce the results of the recount or recertify Mr. Biden as the winner.

The urgency of the senate races was reflected in the huge amounts of money pouring into the four campaigns in recent weeks: about $187 million just in online donations from Oct. 15 to Nov. 23, according to federal records from the donation-processing sites ActBlue and WinRed.

In that 40-day period, both Democratic challengers out-raised their Republican opponents every day from online contributions and surpassed the previous Senate fund-raising record for a full quarter. Mr. Warnock raised $63.3 million in online donations and Mr. Ossoff raised $66.4 million.

In that time, the two Republicans raised $58.2 million.

Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

But well-heeled Republicans have erased much of the Democrats’ financial advantage with giant donations to a super PAC that raised $70 million in less than three weeks from a who’s who of Republican megadonors, including Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone ($15 million) and Ken Griffin of Citadel ($12 million). The media mogul Rupert Murdoch gave $1 million, as did his son, Lachlan, the chief executive of the Fox Corporation.

Ms. Loeffler, one of the wealthiest members of the Senate, put $23 million of her own money into her campaign to get to the runoff and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, has donated an additional $10 million to a pro-Loeffler super PAC.

Big contributions from Democratic donors are lagging the Republicans. The leading Senate Democratic super PAC raised a little more than $10 million in the 20 days after the general election, records show. The biggest donation — $2.5 million — came from the organization that Stacey Abrams created, Fair Fight, after her narrow loss in 2018 for the governor’s race.

As Ms. Abrams’s star power has increased, Fair Fight itself has emerged as a major magnet for Democratic giving, pulling in nearly $35 million in 40 days that ended Nov. 23. Ms. Abrams, widely credited with leading the Democratic renaissance in Georgia, also appeared in the virtual rally on Friday for the two Democratic candidates.

“We won this election decisively, and, despite the number of recounts, it keeps giving us the same answer: that Georgia Democrats showed up, that Georgians showed up and that we decided that we wanted to move this nation in the right direction,” Ms. Abrams said.

Mr. Ossoff voiced a major theme that both Democratic candidates were seeking to exploit: allegations that Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue benefited from questionable stock trades as they learned about the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic. “We’re running against, like, the Bonnie and Clyde of political corruption in America, who represent politicians who put themselves over the people,” he said. Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler have denied any inappropriate financial dealings.

On Friday, Mr. Pence rallied on behalf of Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue in Savannah, where he warned that Democrats would advance a liberal, big-government agenda if they were allowed to seize control of the Senate.

“If you don’t vote, they win,” Mr. Pence told the small but enthusiastic crowd at the Savannah airport. “If you don’t vote, there could be nothing to stop Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi from cutting our military, raising taxes and passing the agenda of the radical left.”

Mr. Pence was joined at the airport by Mr. Perdue but not Ms. Loeffler, who returned to Atlanta after a young man on her campaign staff was killed on Friday afternoon in a traffic accident.

Before the rally, Mr. Pence attended the C.D.C. briefing with the Republican candidates, saying the nation is facing a “challenging time” but also “a season of hope,” with the likely approval of the first coronavirus vaccine coming as soon as next week.

Sheryl Stolberg, Jonathan Martin and Rachel Shorey contributed reporting.

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Public Health Workers In Kansas Walk Away Over Pressure From Pandemic Politics – NPR

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Dr. Jennifer Bacani McKenney, the health officer in rural Wilson County, Kan., has received threatening emails and has been the target of personal attacks on social media.

Jim McLean/KCUR

Jim McLean/KCUR

In July, Nick Baldetti resigned as director of the Reno County Health Department in Kansas.

But it wasn’t the 80-hour workweeks that drove him to quit, it was the hostile political environment and threats to Baldetti’s family.

“I had the local police watching my house because my family was home and I was not,” said Baldetti, who also served as the department’s health officer. “There was a period of time that I had escorts to and from work.”

Baldetti spent years preparing to deal with a public health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. He never imagined that when the moment arrived, he would encounter such antagonism for simply doing his job.

“By the end of the day, you just felt like you were on an island by yourself,” he said. “Whatever decision I made, 50% of people were going to be upset because it was too ‘restrictive’ and the other 50% were going to be upset because it wasn’t restrictive enough.”

Baldetti’s story isn’t unique. The pressure of dealing with the pandemic and the politics surrounding it has triggered an exodus of public health workers in Kansas.

In the nine months since the state’s first documented coronavirus infection, 27 county health officials have left their posts. Some retired, but others resigned or were fired.

The same pressures are thinning the ranks of local public health officials across the country. Many are leaving because they’ve been physically threatened or “politically scapegoated” for doing their jobs, Lori Freeman, chief executive of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told NPR.

Frustration, fear and fatigue

Gianfranco Pezzino recently announced that after 14 years as the health officer of the Shawnee County Health Department, he would step down at the end of the year.

“There’s a lot of burnout, anger and frustration,” Pezzino said.

A doctor and public health researcher, Pezzino said months of battling county commissioners over how to contain the coronavirus had worn him out.

“I’m tired emotionally, I’m tired physically,” Pezzino said. “I don’t think I have the energy … to do another year like this.”

The amount of misinformation spread on social media — much of it emanating from the White House — politicized the nation’s response to the pandemic, Pezzino said.

“If there had been a unified message coming down from the federal government to the state and local levels,” he said, “it would have been much easier for everybody.”

Mask mandate backlash

Jennifer Bacani McKenney is also tired and frustrated. Nevertheless, she’s fighting to stay on as the health officer in rural Wilson County.

McKenney, a doctor, grew up in Fredonia, the county seat. She returned about a decade ago to join her father’s medical practice.

Initially, she said, citizens of the county in the southeast part of the state embraced orders issued by Gov. Laura Kelly and the county health department aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Those orders sequestered people in their homes and closed schools and some businesses.

“That first probably two months we were everybody’s best friend,” McKenney said. “We were here to take care of you.”

But support for those policies eroded as the number of unemployed Kansans grew to levels not seen since the Great Recession. Republican legislative leaders responded by reining in Kelly’s emergency powers and those of local health officials.

As the political debate grew more heated — nationally and in Kansas — hostility toward public health officials, like McKenney, increased.

She got threatening emails and was the target of personal attacks on social media.

“It hurts your heart, it really does,” McKenney said. “It’s not only that people are mean, it’s that you’ve lost friends. Relationships are broken.”

During the worst of it, McKenney said, she often sat alone in her office and cried after seeing her last patient of the day.

“There’s nothing else to do,” she said.

Andy Miller, a Wilson County commissioner, said McKenney brought some of the criticism on herself by disparaging President Trump’s handling of the pandemic in social media posts.

“When you start getting political,” Miller said, “you’ve created a storm.”

When that happens, he said, the attacks run both ways.

“I’ve probably got a dozen emails or so that are just, ‘it’s either a mask [mandate] or you’re a killer,’ ” he said. “There’s no in between.”

Wilson County Commissioner Andy Miller says Dr. McKenney created a storm when she criticized President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Jim McLean/KCUR

Jim McLean/KCUR

Early last month, commissioners rejected McKenney’s proposal for a mask mandate. But as COVID-19 cases in the county and across the state surged and Kelly reiterated her call for a statewide policy, they agreed to consider a compromise.

Most of the people who showed up for a public hearing opposed the mandate as an assault on their personal liberty.

“My fear doesn’t happen to be the COVID virus but the overreach of national and state officials who believe because of their positions or ego that their opinions are fact,” said Charles Fox, a Fredonia veterinarian.

Donovan Hutchinson, the bar owner in nearby Neodesha, said giving in to a mask mandate would lead to further abuses of government power.

“What will they come after next, our guns, our children?” he said.

When it became apparent that the commission was ready to approve a 30-day mask mandate as a compromise several people walked out in protest.

Like other public health officials, McKenney is tired and discouraged. But she said she’s not going to quit.

“That’s not me,” she said. “I can’t have this knowledge and ability to help people and just walk away.”


Jim McLean is the senior correspondent for the Kansas News Service. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks or email jim (at) kcur (dot) org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

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Biden wrestles with politics in effort to depoliticize the Justice Department – CNN

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This creates competing realities for Biden. He must get an attorney general confirmed by a Senate that could be controlled by Republicans, some of whom tell CNN they will only vote for a candidate who pledges to continue an investigation into the 2016 election.
But even more significant, Biden is also feeling pressure from top Democrats and allied groups who believe he must nominate a person of color to at least one of the top four Cabinet posts, likely as attorney general.
Democratic lawmakers and allied groups are pressuring Biden’s transition team after Biden selected White nominees for both his top job at the State and Treasury departments. The calculation is complicated by the fact that Michele Flournoy, who is also White, is seen as Biden’s leading contender to lead the Defense Department.
On the right, there’s a new hurdle for Biden to clear, following the appointment of John Durham as special counsel investigating whether intelligence and law enforcement violated the law in investigating the 2016 presidential campaign. Senate Republicans are signaling they will require any attorney general nominee to commit to keeping Durham in place. A source familiar with the deliberations inside the transition said Thursday that the ongoing Durham probe “won’t impact” who Biden selects for attorney general.
Biden’s list of contenders for the job — from Sally Yates, former deputy attorney general, to Doug Jones, soon to be former senator from Alabama who was defeated in November — largely centers on former prosecutors whose history at the department could lend credibility with the public and career officials.
Others said to be in contention include Deval Patrick, former Massachusetts governor and former Justice Department civil rights chief; Jeh Johnson, the Homeland Security secretary under Obama; California Attorney General Xavier Becerra; and Lisa Monaco, a former Homeland Security adviser in the Obama White House and who previously worked at the FBI and as top national security prosecutor at Justice.
Biden, along with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, are interviewing contenders and weighing the decision. They are not expected to announce a decision until next week at the earliest, people familiar with the matter told CNN, but with a goal of doing so well before the holidays. The timing is also contingent on the nomination of a Secretary of Defense.
The job, for whomever Biden picks, will be a heavy lift. The pick will be stepping into a Justice Department damaged by the Trump administration and with low morale among career officials, many of whom have been publicly called out by President Donald Trump, Barr and other Republicans.
And Senate leaders are already demanding Biden select someone who will leave Durham in his special counsel job.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who sits on Senate Judiciary, told CNN on Thursday that the next Attorney General nominee “absolutely” must commit to keeping Durham as special counsel.
“It’s non-negotiable,” he said.
The nominee will also be tasked with overseeing Biden’s attempts to tackle questions about race and policing, an issue that dominated the political conversation over the summer in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in May and the subsequent widespread protests, as well as calls to protect the right to vote and use the power of the Department of Justice to combat climate change.
Biden said Thursday he will make sure his Justice Department operates independently, he told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an exclusive interview. “I’m not going to be telling them what they have to do and don’t have to do. I’m not going to be saying go prosecute A, B or C — I’m not going to be telling them. That’s not the role, it’s not my Justice Department, it’s the people’s Justice Department.”

Yates and Jones

Yates, multiple sources told CNN, had long been one of Biden’s leading contenders for the job, with the longtime official reflecting Biden’s focus on career officials in the picks he has already made.
But her nomination could be contentious.
Yates’ order for the Justice Department to refuse to enforce Trump’s first travel ban prompted her firing in January 2017, making her a “Resistance” hero to liberals and served as a highlight for Yates in a speech to the Democratic National Convention in August, during which said Trump “trampled the rule of law, trying to weaponize the Justice Department to attack his enemies and protect his friends.”
As quickly as Yates has become a hero to the left, she has become a villain on the right — Barr, then a private citizen, wrote that her decision was “incoherent and untenable” — a fact that could complicate her nomination to a Republican Senate. If nominated, Republicans are likely to revisit that episode, as well as the fact that the FBI launched its investigation of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign during Yates’ tenure. In recent months, Yates sat for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss some of the mistakes the FBI made during that probe.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is in line to chair Senate Judiciary in a GOP majority, told CNN on Thursday that Durham’s probe into the 2016 election will be key to the consideration of a new nominee.
“Yes, from this standpoint,” Grassley said when asked if keeping Durham would be central to the nomination. “Everybody came to me when I was chairman of the committee and wanted to make sure that I would take action to make sure that Trump didn’t fire Mueller.”
After noting he sponsored legislation aimed at protecting special counsels, Grassley added: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so I want to make sure that Durham gets the same respect.”
Sources also told CNN that Biden is serious about his intent to move beyond the Trump era in hopes of unifying the country and wonders whether Yates could be too divisive of a nominee to lead the Justice Department and her confirmation could be complicated by Senate Republicans.
Jones is seen as someone easier to confirm. The current senator from Alabama who lost his bid for reelection in November previously worked as the US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama and was the lead prosecutor suing KKK members responsible for the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, strong selling points to advocacy organizations.
Both Yates and Jones, however, are White, an issue for an incoming administration seeking diversity among its appointees that could be compounded by picks Biden has already made.
The former vice president has picked Antony Blinken to be his Secretary of State and Janet Yellen to be his Treasury secretary, and the frontrunner to be Biden’s Secretary of Defense is Flournoy. All three are White.
“I don’t think they can politically do that,” said a source familiar with the transition. “I don’t think they can get away with that.”

Political considerations

Attorney General, like other nominations to the Cabinet, is hardly made in a vacuum, so the likelihood of Biden picking Johnson, Patrick and Becerra could increase if Biden has not already chosen a Black nominee for another top Cabinet post.
Biden is seriously considering Patrick, believing he could have a smoother path to confirmation, sources told CNN. Patrick was viewed to be an attorney general candidate in the latter years of the Obama presidency, but instead went into the private sector before mounting an ill-fated presidential bid late in the nomination process. His relationship with Biden could be strained, however, after Patrick largely ran for president by arguing none of the other candidates — including Biden — had what it took to beat Trump.
Johnson is someone Biden knows from his time in the Obama administration, where he led the Department of Homeland Security from 2013 to 2017 and previously as the general counsel of the Department of Defense. And Johnson is also said to be under consideration by Biden for other positions, including Defense Secretary.
“I like how Jeh Johnson handles himself,” Grassley said Thursday.
But Johnson comes with some baggage for the left, particularly how the Obama administration handled the deportation of undocumented immigrants during his tenure at Homeland Security. Biden has sought to distance himself from that record, including explicitly saying he would handle deportation differently than President Barack Obama.
Becerra is also under consideration, people familiar with the matter say, and has many allies inside the Biden transition. He served in Congress for more than two decades and despite his criticism and myriad lawsuits against the Trump administration, officials believe at least a handful of Republicans would join Democratic senators in confirming him.
Monaco, like Johnson, has been considered for other Biden administration roles. If Trump fires FBI Director Christopher Wray, as he at times mused that he might, then Monaco is a top candidate as the first woman to fill that vacancy. She was on the shortlist for the job when Obama picked James Comey in 2013.

The challenges

Whoever Biden picks for attorney general will inherit a Justice Department damaged by perceptions of politicized decision-making, thanks to Trump’s Twitter rantings, and low morale among career employees.
Taking on the job is likely to be a major challenge, particularly because the Justice Department’s top job in recent decades increasingly has become the focus of partisan fights between Congress and the White House no matter who holds it. And many in the Democratic base want to see the Department of Justice do more to combat systemic racism in policing, protect the right to vote and crack down on the kinds of financial abuses that were seen to run rampant during the Trump administration.
After four years of Trump, some Democrats are also hungry for the Department of Justice under Biden to prosecute some of the decision made during Trump’s tenure.
Biden has largely resisted those calls and plans to try to put distance between the Department of Justice and his White House by issuing an executive order “directing that no White House staff or any member of his administration may initiate, encourage, obstruct, or otherwise improperly influence specific DOJ investigations or prosecutions for any reason.” The move is a rejection of the Trump administration, which saw Trump repeatedly lean on the Department of Justice for political reasons, especially under Barr.
Justice employees welcomed Barr to his second stint as attorney general, with hopes high that he would protect the department from the steady diet of attacks from Trump, who regularly criticized Jeff Sessions, his first attorney general. Instead, Barr has embraced Trump’s rhetoric, doing damage to the department’s reputation with the courts, the public and its own employees, current and former Justice officials say.
After months of complaining privately about career prosecutors resisting his demands, Barr used a September speech to a conservative college audience to compare career officials to Montessori pre-schoolers. The point of the speech was to underscore that political appointees are the bosses, but Barr used demeaning terms to complain about career civil servants who serve under Republican and Democratic administrations.
Barr’s defenders say he has done as much as possible to keep politics out of the department in an unorthodox presidency. Under public pressure from Trump to target Biden and Obama over what Trump claims were spying violations against his campaign, Barr publicly said the department wasn’t doing that. People close to Barr also say his conduct in office isn’t evidence of doing Trump’s bidding, but more a reflection of a deeply conservative Republican attorney general who believes the political left was out to get Trump.
Phillip Halpern, who left the department this fall after 36 years as a federal prosecutor, says one example of potential long-term damage from the Barr era comes from his push to drop charges against Michael Flynn, claiming in part that Flynn’s lies to the FBI weren’t material, or big enough, to matter.
“His excuse on the Flynn case on the standard of materiality was as stupid as what Trump said about injecting bleach into your body,” Halpern said in an interview. “It’s a lie, it’s offensive.”
A future attorney general will have to restore trust, Halpern said.
Other current and former officials say the department’s civil rights enforcement and voting rights sections will require work after the Trump era. And after months of protests over police conduct and accountability, the Justice Department under Biden will be under pressure to help encourage changes to policing.
And the pick will be tasked with what to do about special ongoing probes launched under Barr, in an apparent effort to placate Trump. These include the investigation by John Durham into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation.
And that could be the first test of Biden’s pledge to take a hands-off approach with the Department of Justice.
“I will not do what this president does,” Biden told NBC News last month, “and use the Justice Department as my vehicle to insist that something happen.”
But the special counsel investigation will now be waiting for Biden.

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