Former president Barack Obama was on the campaign trail in Arizona when he was called out by a heckler in the crowd and swiftly spun it into a broader messaging opportunity about the country’s increasingly toxic political landscape.
It came in the middle of a stump speech for Democrats, Sen. Mark Kelly and Katie Hobbs, who will respectively take on Blake Masters (R) for senator and Kari Lake (R) for governor in next week’s midterm elections.
Republicans want “an economy that’s very good for folks at the very top, but not always so good for ordinary people,” Obama began telling the crowd of around 1,000 in a high school gymnasium in Phoenix on Wednesday.
“Like you, Obama!” a young, male heckler interrupted. “Are you gonna start yelling?” Obama replied, as the crowd erupted into loud boos in an attempt to drown out the heckler.
Hecklers are a relatively common occurrence at political rallies; Obama, who was heckled as recently as this weekend in Michigan, frequently tries to tone down the temperature and encourage open dialogue and took a similar approach this time.
“Hold up, hold up, everybody,” Obama said in Phoenix. “Hey, young man, just listen for a second. You know you have to be polite and civil when people are talking, then other people are talking and then you get a chance to talk.”
“Set up your own rally!” the former president quipped. “A lot of people worked hard for this. Come on, man.”
As the event began to come back under hand, Obama urged the crowd to “settle down” and said the incident was akin to the noise drowning out moderate voices in many political debates. “This is part of what happens in our politics these days. We get distracted,” Obama said.
“You got one person yelling and suddenly everybody’s yelling. You get one tweet that’s stupid and suddenly everybody’s obsessed with the tweet. We can’t fall for that. We have to stay focused,” he continued.
He argued that if Republican candidates are successful in the crucial swing state, “democracy as we know it may not survive in Arizona.”
As he continued his speech, Obama spoke of the “peaceful transfer of power” he underwent with Donald Trump when Democrats lost in 2016, contrasting it with Trump’s refusal to concede the 2020 election to Joe Biden. “That’s what America’s supposed to be about. Did we forget that?” Obama said.
He noted that he had spoken to his “friend” Paul Pelosi, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who was attacked last week at the couple’s home in San Francisco. The perpetrator, identified as a man with extreme political views, shouted “Where is Nancy?” upon arrival to the house. Discussing the attack, Obama criticized “this increasing habit of demonizing political opponents, of just yelling,” he told the crowd.
Obama appeared to echo a speech made earlier that day by President Biden who, also speaking of Pelosi, said there was “no place for voter intimidation or political violence in America, whether it’s directed at Democrats or Republicans … No place, period.”
“You can’t love your country only when you win,” Biden said in his own speech at Washington’s Union Station, warning that candidates who refuse to accept next Tuesday’s results could set the nation on a “path to chaos.”
Millions of voters across the country have already cast their ballots or are planning to go to the polls on Election Day. Officials in Maricopa County, home to metro Phoenix and most of Arizona’s voters, say they are prepared for 250,000 to 350,000 people to vote in person on Tuesday. They project between 1.4 million to 1.9 million voters total.
The state’s early-voting system has come under attack by some Republican activists who have spent the past few years casting suspicion on voting by mail and drop boxes used to return early ballots, stoking skepticism at campaign events and online about the county’s preparedness for large numbers of in-person voters.
Some Arizona voters have complained of intimidation by self-appointed drop-box monitors — some of them armed — prompting a federal judge to set strict new limits.
At a news conference Wednesday, election officials warned there could be lines at polling locations on Election Day but said this shouldn’t be a sign of failing to run elections properly, anticipating that “possible narrative” amid rising tensions.
Separately on Wednesday a federal judge ordered that a group monitoring Arizona ballot drop boxes for signs of fraud should stay at least 75 feet away from ballot boxes and publicly correct false statements its members have made about Arizona election laws. The ruling also prevents drop-box watchers from taking photos or videos of voters and using the material to spread baseless allegations of electoral fraud.
Republican contenders in Arizona have been fervent in embracing Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.
Lake, the GOP’s nominee for governor, has called anyone who believes Biden won with 81 million votes a “conspiracy theorist,” while Masters, the Republican Senate nominee, announced unequivocally in an ad, “I think Trump won in 2020.”
According to a recent Washington Post analysis, a majority of Republican nominees on the ballot for the House, Senate and key statewide offices — 291 in total — have denied or questioned the outcome of the last presidential election.
Pandemic Politics Hold Up Gazillion-Dollar Defense Bill – New York Magazine
One of the very few bipartisan traditions still standing in Congress is the annual passage of a defense authorization bill setting policy for the Pentagon and national security strategy generally. Despite all sorts of partisan tensions and efforts to take the bill hostage, this has happened for 61 straight years. Making that 62 straight years has been a priority for the lame-duck session of Congress currently under way. The House passed its version of the measure — authorizing $839 billion in defense spending for the fiscal year that began on October 1 — in July, with robust majorities from both party caucuses. It was mostly noteworthy for adding to President Biden’s spending requests and knocking down a few of the administration’s specific defense-policy proposals, notably stopping the Defense Department from scrapping certain aircraft, ships, and missile programs.
For mostly scheduling reasons, the Senate has taken longer to negotiate its version of the bill and has decided to work out a final deal with the House and the administration that can be whipped quickly through the lame-duck session in both chambers and presented to the president for his signature. But at the last minute, a dispute that has little to do with defense policy threatens to throw sand into the gears of the process: a battle over revocation of the COVID-vaccine mandate for members of the armed forces that was imposed in August 2021.
It’s entirely unsurprising that Republicans, whose base is heavily larded with anti-vaxxers and who have sought to make any sort of COVID-related requirements a big civil-liberties issue, would want to scrap the military mandate. (Twenty-one Republican governors also recently sent Biden a letter calling for this policy change.) And it seems that Democrats (including within the White House) are grudgingly willing to give them this trophy. Indeed, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy is already crowing about it, according to the Washington Post:
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) claimed Sunday that he had worked out the arrangement directly with President Biden. Although White House officials later disputed that characterization, McCarthy described the compromise as his party’s “first victory” since the GOP won control of the House in the midterm elections.
House Armed Services Committee chairman Adam Smith isn’t conceding it’s a done deal, but it sounds like the handwriting is on the wall, Politico reports:
“We haven’t resolved it, but it is very fair to say that it’s in discussion,” Smith told POLITICO on the sidelines of the Reagan National Defense Forum. He noted that the mandate may not be logical anymore.
“I was a very strong supporter of the vaccine mandate when we did it, a very strong supporter of the Covid restrictions put in place by DoD and others,” he added. “But at this point in time, does it make sense to have that policy from August 2021? That is a discussion that I am open to and that we’re having.”
The bigger problem is that Republicans are mulling a demand that military members who refused to obey the vaccine mandate and were accordingly discharged be reinstated and even compensated. Smith says that’s a nonstarter:
While negotiators are willing to entertain the possibility of undoing the policy, Smith said GOP calls to reinstate or grant back pay to troops who refused the shot amounted to a red line. He called the push “a horrible idea.”
“The one thing that I was adamant about — so were others — is there’s going to be no reinstatement or back pay for the people who refused to obey the order to get the vaccine,” Smith said. “Orders are not optional in the military.”
It’s increasingly clear that the big question is whether Republicans will choose to deep-six the defense bill for the first time in 62 years in order to score a culture-war point about the alleged unreasonableness of a soon-to-be-past vaccine mandate. If they do, it will underscore how important resistance to COVID-prevention efforts is to the GOP’s messaging.
The dispute will also be an indicator as to whether McCarthy has even the most minimal interest in bipartisan governing once he obtains the Speaker’s gavel in January (assuming he isn’t pushed aside by his caucus’s extremists first). Back in November, he was already making noises about forcing a renegotiation of the defense bill so that it would not pass until the next Congress convenes, as Defense News reported:
“I’ve watched what the Democrats have done on many of these things, especially the NDAA — the woke-ism that they want to bring in there,” McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday after House Republican leadership elections, where the majority of his caucus nominated him to serve as speaker in the next Congress. “I actually believe the NDAA should hold up until the 1st of this year — and let’s get it right.”
That McCarthy is apparently willing to put national security policy on hold so that he can pursue the idiotic MAGA crusade against a “woke military” tells us a lot about the kind of conduct we can expect from him going forward. If he does hold the defense bill hostage, we’ll know that he may formally hold the Speaker’s gavel, but Marjorie Taylor Greene owns it.
Politics Podcast: Warnock Has The Edge In A Close Race – FiveThirtyEight
It is Election Day once again in Georgia. While this year’s Senate runoff will not determine control of the Senate, it will still decide the state’s representation in Washington for the next six years. It will also be another high profile test of a candidate — Herschel Walker — handpicked by former President Trump.
In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, Galen Druke speaks with Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters Tia Mitchell and Greg Bluestein about how things have looked on the ground in the final stretch of the campaign.
Later in the show, ABC News reporter Brittany Shepherd describes the internal debate within the Democratic Party over what a new presidential primary calendar might look like in 2024.
You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.
The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.
Trump's slow 2024 start worries allies – CNN
Back in 2015, Donald Trump’s first campaign rally in Iowa as a contender for the Republican presidential nomination came just 10 hours after he declared his candidacy in New York. The following day, he was across the country in New Hampshire, with plans to visit South Carolina before the end of his first week.
But seven years later – and nearly three weeks into his 2024 presidential campaign – Trump has yet to leave his home state or hold a public campaign event in an early voting state.
Trump’s disengaged posture has baffled former and current allies, many of whom experienced firsthand the frenetic pace of his two previous White House bids, and who now say he’s missed the window to make a splash with his 2024 rollout. The uninspiring launch of his supposed political comeback comes as his campaign appears to be operating on auto pilot, with few signs of momentum or enthusiastic support from donors or party heavyweights.
“I don’t know why he rushed this. It doesn’t make sense,” one Trump adviser said of his lackluster announcement speech last month, which came one week after Republicans delivered an underwhelming performance in the midterm elections and as the rest of the party turned its attention to the Senate runoff contest in Georgia.
Trump’s announcement was roundly panned for lacking zest, so much so that some audience members attempted an early exit, and his recent hosting of Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes and embattled rapper Kanye “Ye” West at Mar-a-Lago only further galvanized GOP opposition against him. A person familiar with the matter said Trump spent the Sunday after Thanksgiving asking people around him if they thought the backlash to his private dinner with Ye and Fuentes was truly damaging.
“So far, he has gone down from his bedroom, made an announcement, gone back up to his bedroom and hasn’t been seen since except to have dinner with a White supremacist,” said a 2020 Trump campaign adviser.
“It’s 1000% a ho-hum campaign,” the adviser added.
The only other notable event to occur since Trump announced he was running again was both unintended and dreaded for weeks by the former president’s attorneys. Just three days after Trump launched his campaign, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to oversee two ongoing criminal investigations into the 45th president and his associates.
While some Republicans long speculated that Trump entered the presidential race early to inoculate himself from further legal peril, his candidate status instead appeared to serve as the catalyst for Garland’s announcement.
A Trump campaign spokesman said the former president has held “multiple events since he announced,” noting his remote appearance at the annual Republican Jewish Coalition summit last month, video remarks to a conference for conservative activists in Mexico, a Patriots Freedom Fund event, his remarks at two separate political events held at Mar-a-Lago, and a tele-rally Monday night for Georgia Republican Senate hopeful Herschel Walker. None of these events were billed as campaign events.
Trump’s current campaign trajectory has left both allies and Republican opponents wondering if he will flip a switch in 2023 or fail to adapt to a different political environment. Even as the GOP’s undisputed 2024 frontrunner, some of his closest allies say he simply cannot afford to take his position for granted at a moment when influential Republicans appear exceedingly interested in dislodging him from his influential perch.
“If Trump was working in a lush jungle environment in 2016, he is in a desert today,” said a Republican close to the former president. “The political landscape has totally changed. He was irresistible because no one understood him but now everybody knows how to deal with him, so the question is, can he recalibrate?”
Some sources said Trump’s first-out-of-the-gate strategy, which was said to be partly aimed at clearing the GOP primary field, already looks poised to fail.
“You know what it’s done to dissuade people from getting in? Nothing. He hasn’t hired anyone. He hasn’t been to the early states,” said the 2020 campaign adviser.
Trump’s lack of impact was on display a week after his announcement, as other 2024 Republican hopefuls took the stage in Las Vegas for the annual RJC summit. Some attacked the former President, while others, once allies of Trump, indicated they were ready to take him on in 2024.
Just days before the event, Trump’s team announced plans for him to address the group remotely. Two people familiar with the matter said his virtual address was organized by aides at the last minute after he grew agitated upon realizing the event was a cattle call for Republican presidential prospects and he was not on its original list of speakers. The Trump campaign spokesman disputed this account, saying Trump’s remote remarks were planned “many weeks prior to the event.”
Other sources who for months harbored concerns that Trump wasn’t as enthusiastic about running as he was letting on in public appearances now say his inactivity has increased their worry. Apart from a planned fundraising appearance for a classical education group in Naples last weekend, the former president has yet to announce any events before the end of the year. A person familiar with the matter said Trump’s team is toying with a pre-Christmas event of some kind, though his campaign has not yet finalized any travel. In a statement last week panning a move by Democratic officials to put South Carolina first on the party’s primary calendar, Trump appeared to tease a visit to Iowa, currently the first state to cast votes in both parties’ presidential nominating contests, “in the very near future.”
“I can’t wait to be back in Iowa,” he said.
Campaign is ‘taking a breather’
Inside Trump’s campaign, sources said his current approach is entirely intentional, dismissing concerns that he has forfeited the spotlight at a critical time but acknowledging that Trump is currently working with a bare-bones staff.
The campaign “is doing exactly what everyone always accuses [them] of not doing – taking a breather, planning and forming a strategy for the next two years,” said one source familiar with Trump’s operation said.
Senior staff are holed up working on a plan,” this person added, noting that Trump’s campaign travel is expected to begin early in the new year, right as possible rivals who have taken the holidays to mull their own political futures may start launching their own campaigns or exploratory committees.
And while some Trump allies have been surprised by his lack of a hiring spree right out of the gate, his campaign has been content to maintain a lean operation while he’s the only candidate in the field. The former president is not expected to tap a formal campaign manager, instead elevating three trusted advisers – Susie Wiles, Brian Jack and Chris LaCivita – to senior roles, but allies said he will likely need to build out his on-the-ground staff in early voting states in the months to come, as well as a robust communications operation if he finds himself in a competitive primary.
While those hires don’t need to happen immediately, people close to Trump said his early entry into the 2024 race does raise questions about how he will sustain campaign-related costs over a longer period than other candidates who declare later, including chief potential rival Ron DeSantis. CNN has previously reported that the Florida governor, should he decide to take on Trump, would announce next May or June, after the conclusion of his state’s legislative session and just months before the Republican party could host its first primary debate, according to a party official involved in debate planning.
“The question a lot of us have is can Trump sustain a campaign for two years. That’s the real difficulty here. The pacing we’re seeing right now is designed to do that,” said a person close to Trump.
In addition to planning rallies and events and building momentum around the former President, the campaign staff is also looking at how to best insulate Trump after many were caught off guard learning of Trump’s dinner with Fuentes and West. The event, and the days of fallout and negative coverage, has expedited some of the campaign’s long-term plans, including ensuring a senior campaign staffer is always with the former president, a source familiar with the campaign said.
Trump’s White House staff worked with resort staff during his presidency in a similar fashion to protect Trump from potentially “unsavory” guests of members, the source said. Those close to Trump blamed “low level staffers” for allowing Fuentes to slip into the resort without any flags being raised.
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