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Politics Briefing: UN warns Ethiopian conflict is spiralling out of control – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

The United Nations is warning that a violent conflict in northern Ethiopia is spiralling out of control.

Amnesty International says hundreds of civilians have been killed by knives or machetes in a “massacre” in the country’s Tigray region, where members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front are fighting Ethiopian government forces.

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The TBLF have characterized their actions as an “invasion” against Ethiopia’s central government. They accuse Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, of purging Tigrayans from positions of power.

Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, says the activities documented by Amnesty amount to war crimes, if confirmed.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Chris Hannay. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

The Liberal government says it will table a new bill to fix the rent-subsidy legislation (C-9) that is currently before the Senate. The old bill requires businesses to prepay their rent before requesting federal aid, which businesses said would be difficult to do because of their low cash flow. The Liberals tried to fix that problem with a last-minute amendment, but it was ruled out of order for procedural reasons.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the provincial government invested US$1.1-billion in the Keystone pipeline project because he thinks the federal Liberals won’t stick with their investments in the Trans Mountain project.

The Department of National Defence is shutting down an initiative for public-affairs officers to target propaganda and influence campaigns on the Canadian public.

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The Ontario Provincial Police’s anti-rackets branch has launched a fraud investigation related to the province’s COVID-19 relief program for families with young children and children with special needs.

Dennis Kwok, one of the Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers who was kicked out of office under China’s national-security law this week, said it was a “sad day” for people who care about democracy. Mr. Kwok was born in Canada, but gave up his Canadian citizenship to enter Hong Kong politics.

And today in the U.S. election aftermath, China finally congratulates president-elect Joe Biden and Donald Trump prepares to face some serious legal challenges once he leaves office.

Ann Fitz-Gerald (The Globe and Mail) on why Canada should step into Ethiopia’s conflict: “Nestled in a difficult area that shares borders with conflict-ridden states such as South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea, Ethopia serves as the main gateway to the African continent’s diplomatic community, making Ethiopia’s complex tensions with the [Tigray People’s Liberation Front] important for its allies – including new ones, such as Canada – to understand.”

Andrew Coyne (The Globe and Mail) on the big picture of the Conservative Party: “The Conservatives would seem to occupy a unique position in Canadian political life, combining (as I’ve written before) the commitment to principle of the Liberals with the electoral success of the NDP. The party has taken each new defeat as a signal to reinvent itself yet again, jettisoning policies it had only recently adopted and adopting new ones just in time to toss them aside. It is perpetually dismayed to discover the public does not find this approach terribly persuasive – with the result that the party has neither governed much, historically, nor been particularly influential.”

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on why the provinces should take over all sales taxes: “And for those who argue the federal government needs to use tax revenue to bend provincial governments to its will for the sake of national unity, the best way to promote unity would be for Ottawa to leave the provinces alone.”

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Aaron Wudrick (Financial Post) on corporate subsidies: “For all the mind-numbing rhetoric and blue-sky economic spinoff factoids, the fundamental purpose of private sector economic activity is supposed to be to create value — to profit society both directly (for shareholders and employees) and indirectly (by generating tax revenue for governments to spend on public services). When businesses consume tax revenue, they become a burden, not a contributor. A housing developer that had to pay its customers to buy its houses would go out of business almost immediately. Yet change the product to ‘cars’ or ‘airplanes’ and far too many people suddenly nod their heads as if self-dealing of this sort is sheer genius.”

Gabrielle Peters (Maclean’s) on the inadequacy of supports for people with disabilities during the pandemic: “It should come as no surprise to anyone, least of all the Prime Minister, that a sudden increase in expenses when you are living well below the poverty line creates an urgent crisis. And yet it would seem no one has responded as if disabled people are even part of this public health crisis, let alone uniquely at risk from it.”

Rita Trichur (The Globe and Mail) on how COVID-19 does not affect every community equally: “We already know that vulnerable citizens, including the elderly, racialized Canadians and the poor, are being unduly affected by COVID-19 in hot spots such as Toronto. This troubling trend underscores the reality that health outcomes aren’t strictly a medical issue because they are also influenced by factors such as job security, poverty, crowded living and stigmatization.”

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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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