SRN - Political News

Hogan to gather with supporters amid White House speculation

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Term-limited Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan was holding fundraisers for future political activity Wednesday at events where the Republican is expected to talk about his eight years as governor, as well as plans for the future.

Hogan, who leaves office in January, has positioned himself to run as a legitimate alternative to former President Donald Trump, who already has announced he’s running for president in 2024.

Hogan was holding two fundraisers at a hotel and casino about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the state capital. One will mark the launch of a political action committee called Better Path Forward, and the other is being held for Hogan’s political organization, An America United, said David Weinman, who is the organization’s executive director.

The events are expected to raise more than $1 million, Weinman said.

Before the fundraisers, Hogan was scheduled to attend a leadership summit in Annapolis to talk about the future of the country.

“For eight years, Governor Hogan has demonstrated how to lead and deliver commonsense conservative results in a deep-blue state, and we’ve seen overwhelming support in Maryland and across the country for building on this model of success,” Weinman said. “We are excited to host these events to celebrate that success and look toward the future.”

Hogan has said publicly he is focused on finishing his term as governor and that an official announcement about his plans would not happen until after he leaves office in mid-January. However, with a media availability scheduled Wednesday night at the casino, the event sounded similar to one Hogan held in November 2013, when he let supporters know that he planned to run for governor, even though he said at the time he did not plan to formally announce his candidacy for a couple of months.

Hogan, who has been a fierce critic of Trump, would be an underdog in a Republican primary. The Republican candidate Hogan endorsed for governor, Kelly Schulz, lost the GOP primary for governor in Maryland to Trump-endorsed Dan Cox. Cox, however, went on to lose by a large margin in November to Democrat Wes Moore.

Hogan has been a popular governor in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1. He is only the second Republican governor to ever be reelected in Maryland.


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Biden shows little urgency as Dems mull 2024 primary shakeup

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats considering shaking up the order of their 2024 presidential primary are waiting on President Joe Biden, anxious to see if he’ll endorse stripping Iowa of its traditional leadoff spot or discourage major changes while mulling his own potential reelection bid.

But Biden seems to be showing little urgency in addressing the primary calendar, allies say. The president previously avoided moves that could upset any state ahead of November’s critical midterm elections. And he continues to do much of the same even now, as his team quietly moves to lay the groundwork for a 2024 run.

The clock is nonetheless ticking because the Democratic National Committee’s rulemaking arm is meeting Friday to begin deciding which states should be the first four to vote, while considering adding a fifth slot. The lack of a clear signal from the White House has left rules committee members in a holding pattern.

“We do have a leader of our party, and that is President Biden. So we know that there will be a way in from the White House,” said Artie Blanco of Nevada, a member of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee. She added, “Our goal is to have the best calendar that gives our president — when he’s running again — what it looks like for us and for future candidates.”

Still, the primary calendar showdown may be coming before the 80-year-old Biden is ready to fully discuss reelection. The president says he “intends” to run again but plans to talk it over with his family over the holidays before revealing his decision early next year.

Biden spent Thanksgiving on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket and will see more relatives over Christmas, meaning he may not have deep discussions until then. White House aides and Biden allies have begun staffing and structural discussions for his likely 2024 run to ensure the campaign would have all that it needs to be successful, but they have avoided taking any overt steps while the president weighs a final decision.

Then-President Barack Obama didn’t officially launch his reelection effort until April 2011, some six months after the 2010 midterms, and Biden allies are eyeing a similar time frame should he decide to go forward. That, in part, is because the first quarter after a midterm election is historically a weak fundraising period.

Still, Biden’s predecessor, former President Donald Trump, has already announced his third campaign for the White House. He did so just a week after a midterm election that didn’t feature major Republicans gains that many had predicted — with the party winning only narrow control of the House and failing to recapture the Senate despite sky-high inflation rates and Biden’s low approval ratings.

The Democratic rules committee had been expected to decide the primary order in August but put off doing so until after the midterm elections. No matter what the group ultimately does, its decision will still have to be approved by the full DNC, which will likely come next year — though that vote will likely follow the committee’s recommendation.

Michigan Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell has led the effort to get her state in the top five and suggested the DNC committee might not make a final recommendation this week. But she also said too much work had already been done for a decision to drag out indefinitely.

“They’re being very, very careful,” Dingell said. “They’re doing their homework.”

If Biden runs again, the DNC’s decision will be largely moot for 2024 since the party will have little appetite for encouraging a major challenge to a sitting Democratic president. Still, its move could have implications for the presidential race in 2028 and beyond.

Iowa’s caucus has kicked off presidential primary voting since 1976, but technical glitches sparked a meltdown in Democratic 2020 results that kept The Associated Press from declaring a winner. Many party leaders have also long called for beginning the presidential nominating process in a state that is less white, reflecting Democrats’ deeply diverse electorate.

Vying to replace Iowa are New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first primary but follows Iowa’s caucuses, and Nevada, a heavily Hispanic state that had held a caucus but now plans to stage a primary and is looking to jump ahead from third place.

South Carolina, with its large bloc of Black Democrats, could move from fourth to third, freeing up a large Midwestern state to go next. Michigan and Minnesota are making major cases that were only strengthened by Democrats winning full control of both states’ legislatures in the midterms. The Michigan Senate on Tuesday passed a bill moving the state’s primary to the second Tuesday of February, and the proposal should soon clear the state House with bipartisan support.

If the DNC committee adds a fifth early slot, that could go to Iowa to soften the blow of no longer going first.

Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democrats and a rules committee member, said his state sports strong union membership and the country’s highest voter turnout, including among communities of color.

“It not enough to just be diverse on paper. We turn out diverse communities,” Martin said.

Nevada, which has spent months arguing that simply standing on tradition isn’t enough, now says that Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s narrow reelection — it was instrumental in her party clinching control of the Senate even with a runoff election still to come in Georgia — proves that it should go first. Still, Republican Joe Lombardo defeated incumbent Nevada Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak in the same midterm election.

“We are THE battleground state,” Blanco said.

Representatives from Iowa and New Hampshire say that small states let all candidates — not just well-funded ones — connect personally with voters and that losing their slots could advantage Republicans in congressional races. While New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan was reelected in the midterms, so was the state’s Republican governor, Chris Sununu.

The midterms didn’t go as well for Democrats in Iowa, where Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley won another term and the GOP swept all four House seats. Republicans have already decided to keep Iowa starting their 2024 presidential nominating cycle.

New Hampshire Democratic National Committeeman Bill Shaheen championed his state producing speedy midterm results, saying that “by 11 p.m., we knew who won the major races.”

“We’ve got it down,” Shaheen said, “and we give everyone a chance.”

New Hampshire has also threatened to simply disregard DNC decisions and move to go first on its own — and the state has taken such action before. When the DNC approved remaking the primary calendar ahead of the 2008 election, it called for Nevada’s caucus after Iowa and before New Hampshire, only to see New Hampshire move up its primary.

In the past, other states that tried to violate Democratic Party rules and jump closer to the front were threatened with having their delegates not count toward their chosen candidate clinching the party’s nomination, but Shaheen said his state would take its chances.

“If you take it away from New Hampshire, New Hampshire might just do it anyway,” Shaheen said. “We’d forfeit our delegates, but we don’t care.”

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This story corrects the spelling of Sen. Maggie Hassan’s last name.

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Associated Press writers Holly Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire, and Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to show the spelling of the senator’s surname is Hassan, not Hassen.


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No longer fringe, small-town voters fear democracy’s demise

HUDSON, Wis. (AP) — A word — “Hope” — is stitched onto a throw pillow in the little hilltop farmhouse. Photographs of children and grandchildren speckle the walls. In the kitchen, an envelope is decorated with a hand-drawn heart. “Happy Birthday, My Love,” it reads.

Out front, past a pair of century-old cottonwoods, the neighbors’ cornfields reach into the distance.

John Kraft loves this place. He loves the quiet and the space. He loves that you can drive for miles without passing another car.

But out there? Out beyond the cornfields, to the little western Wisconsin towns turning into commuter suburbs, and to the cities growing ever larger?

Out there, he says, is a country that many Americans wouldn’t recognize.

It’s a dark place, dangerous, where freedom is under attack by a tyrannical government, few officials can be trusted and clans of neighbors might someday have to band together to protect one another. It’s a country where the most basic beliefs — in faith, family, liberty — are threatened.

And it’s not just about politics anymore.

“It’s no longer left versus right, Democrat versus Republican,” says Kraft, a software architect and data analyst. “It’s straight up good versus evil.”

He knows how he sounds. He’s felt the contempt of people who see him as a fanatic, a conspiracy theorist.

But he’s a hero in a growing right-wing conservative movement that has rocketed to prominence here in St. Croix County.

Just a couple years ago, their talk of Marxism, government crackdowns and secret plans to destroy family values would have put them at the far fringes of the Republican Party.

But not anymore. Today, despite midterm elections that failed to see the sweeping Republican victories that many had predicted, they remain a cornerstone of the conservative electoral base. Across the country, victories went to candidates who believe in QAnon and candidates who believe the separation of church and state is a fallacy. In Wisconsin, a U.S. senator who dabbles in conspiracy theories and pseudoscience was reelected – crushing his opponent in St. Croix County.

They are farmers and business analysts. They are stay-at-home mothers, graphic designers and insurance salesmen.

They live in communities where crime is almost nonexistent and Cub Scouts hold $5 spaghetti-lunch fundraisers at American Legion halls.

And they live with something else.

Sometimes it’s anger. Sometimes sadness. Every once in a while it’s fear.

All of this can be hard to see, hidden behind the throw pillows and the gently rolling hills. But spend some time in this corner of Wisconsin. Have a drink or two in the small-town bars. Sit with parents cheering kids at the county rodeo. Attend Sunday services.

Try to see America through their eyes.

___

There’s a joke people sometimes tell around here: Democrats take Exit 1 off I-94; Republicans go at least three exits farther.

The first exit off the freeway leads to Hudson, a onetime ragged-at-the-edges riverside town that has become a place of carefully tended 19th-century homes and tourists wandering main street boutiques. With 14,000 people, it’s the largest town in St. Croix County. It’s also replete with Democrats.

The Republicans start at Exit 4, the joke says, beyond a neutral zone of generic sprawl: a Target, a Home Depot, a thicket of chain restaurants.

“For some people out here, Hudson might be (as far away as) South Dakota or California,” says Mark Carlson, who lives off exit 16 in an old log cabin now covered in light blue siding. He doesn’t go into Hudson often. “I don’t meet many liberals.”

Carlson is a friendly man who exudes gentleness, loves to cook, rarely leaves home without a pistol and believes despotism looms over America.

“There’s a plan to lead us from within toward socialism, Marxism, communism-type of government,” says Carlson, a St. Croix County supervisor who recently retired after 20 years working at a juvenile detention facility and is now a part-time Uber driver.

He was swept into office earlier this year when insurgent right-wing conservatives created a powerful local voting bloc, energized by fury over COVID lockdowns, vaccination mandates and the unrest that shook the country after George Floyd was murdered by a policeman in Minneapolis, just 45 minutes away.

In early 2020 they took control of the county Republican Party, driving away leaders they deride as pawns of a weak-kneed establishment, and helped put well over a dozen people in elected positions across the county.

In their America, the U.S. government orchestrated COVID fears to cement its power, the IRS is buying up huge stocks of ammunition and former President Barack Obama may be the country’s most powerful person.

But they are not caricatures. Not even Carlson, a bearded, gun-owning white guy who voted for former President Donald Trump.

“I’m just a normal person,” he says, sitting on a sofa, next to a picture window overlooking the large garden that he and his wife tend. “They don’t realize that we mean well.”

He’s a complicated man. While even he admits he might accurately be called a right-wing extremist, he calls peaceful Black protesters “righteous” for taking to the streets after Floyd’s murder. He doubts there was fraud in the midterm elections. He drives a Tesla. He loves AC/DC and makes his own organic yogurt. In an area where Islam is sometimes viewed with open hostility, he’s a conservative Christian who says he’d back the area’s small Muslim community if they wanted to open a mosque here.

“Build your mosque, of course! That’s the American way!”

He believes, deeply, that America doesn’t need to be bitterly divided.

“Liberalism and conservatism aren’t that far apart. You can be pro-American, pro-constitutional. You just want bigger government programs. I want less.”

“We can work together,” he says. “We don’t have to, like, hate each other.”

Repeatedly, he and the county’s other right-wing conservatives insist they don’t want violence.

But violence often seems to be looming as they talk, hazy images of government thugs or antifa rioters or health officers seizing children from parents.

And weapons are a big part of their self-proclaimed “patriot” movement. The Second Amendment and the belief that Americans have a right to overthrow tyrannical governments are foundational principles.

“I’m not a big gun guy,” says Carlson, whose weapons include pistols, a shotgun, an AR-15 rifle, 10 loaded magazines and about 1,000 additional rounds. “For a lot of people that’s just a start.”

That cocktail of weaponry and politics concerns plenty of people outside of their circles.

Liberal voters, along with many establishment Republicans, worry that men in tactical clothing can now occasionally be seen at public gatherings. They worry that some people are now too afraid to be campaign volunteers. They worry that many locals think twice about wearing Democratic T-shirts in public, even in Hudson.

Paul Hambleton, who lives in Hudson and works with the county Democratic Party, found comfort in the midterm election results, which even some Republicans say could signal a repudiation of Trump and his most extreme supporters.

“I don’t feel the menace like I was feeling it before” the vote, Hambleton says. “I think this election showed that people can be brave, that they can stick their necks out.”

He spent years teaching in small-town St. Croix County, where the population has grown from 43,000 in 1980 to about 95,000 today. He watched over the years as the student body shifted. Farmers’ children gave way to the children of people who commute to work in the Twin Cities. Racial minorities became a small but growing presence.

He understands why the changes might make some people nervous.

“There is a rural way of life that people feel is being threatened here, a small town way of life,” he says.

But he’s also a hunter who saw how hard it was to buy ammunition after the 2020 protests, when firearm sales soared across America. For nearly two years, the shelves were almost bare.

“I found that menacing,” says Hambleton. “Because no way is that deer hunters buying up so much ammunition.”

____

When the newly empowered conservatives get together it’s often at an Irish bar in a freeway strip mall. Next door is the little county GOP office where you can pick up Republican yard signs and $15 travel mugs that proclaim “Normal Is Not Coming Back — Jesus Is.”

Paddy Ryan’s is the closest thing they have to a clubhouse. One afternoon in late summer, Matt Rust was there talking about the media.

“I think they’re an arm of a much larger global effort by very rich powerful people to control as much of the world as possible,” says Rust, a designer and product developer who can quote large parts of the U.S. Constitution from memory. “And I don’t think that’s anything new. It’s always been that way,” from ancient Persian rulers to Adolf Hitler.

“Is that a conspiracy or is that just human nature?” he asks. “I think it’s just human nature.”

Today, polls indicate that well over 60% of Republicans don’t believe President Joe Biden was legitimately elected. Around a third refuse to get the COVID vaccine.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia Republican known for her conspiratorial accusations and violent rhetoric, is a political star. Trump has embraced QAnon and its universe of conspiracies. In Wisconsin, Sen. Ron Johnson, a fierce denier of the 2020 election who has suggested the dangers of COVID are overblown, won his third term on Nov. 8.

This seems impossible to many Americans. How can you dismiss the avalanche of evidence that voter fraud was nearly non-existent in 2020? How do you ignore thousands of scientists insisting vaccines are safe? How do you believe QAnon, a movement born from anonymous internet posts?

But news in this world doesn’t come from the Associated Press or CNN. It only rarely comes from major conservative media, like Fox News.

Where does it come from?

“The internet,” said Scott Miller, a 40-year-old sales analyst and a prominent local gun-rights activist. “That’s where everybody gets their news these days.”

Very often that means right-wing podcasts and videos that bounce around in social media feeds or on the encrypted messaging service Telegram.

It’s a media microcosm with its own vocabulary — Event 201, the Regime, democide, the Parallel Economy — that invites blank stares from outsiders.

While many reports are little more than angry recitations of right-wing talking points, some are sophisticated and believable.

Take “Selection Code,” a highly produced hour-long attack on the 2020 election underwritten by Trump ally Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO. It has the look of a “60 Minutes” piece, tells a complex story and uses unexpected sources to make some of its main points.

Like Hillary Clinton.

“As we look at our election system, I think it’s fair to say there are many legitimate questions about its accuracy, about its integrity,” the then-senator is shown saying in a 2005 Senate speech, questioning the reelection of former President George W. Bush.

Miller laughs.

“I’ll give the Democrats credit. At least they had the courage to stand up and point it out.”

___

Cornfields come right up to the country church, deep in rural St. Croix County and just down the road from a truck stop Denny’s. The closest town, Wilson, is little more than a half-dozen streets, a post office and the Wingin’ It Bar and Grill.

From the pulpit of Calvary Assembly of God, Pastor Rick Mannon preaches a Christianity that resonates deeply among this type of conservatives, with strict lines of good and evil and little hesitation to wade into cultural and political issues. He pushed back hard against COVID restrictions.

It’s an outpost in the culture wars tearing at America, and a haven for people who feel shoved aside by a changing nation.

“If Christians don’t get involved in politics, then we shouldn’t have a say,” Mannon says in an interview. “We can’t just let evil win.”

Religion, once one of America’s tightest social bonds, has changed dramatically over the past few decades, with the overall number of people who identify as Christian plunging from the early 1970s, even as membership in conservative Christian denominations surged.

From churches like Calvary Assembly, they’ve watched as gay marriage was legalized, as trans rights became a national issue, as Christianity, at least in their eyes, came under attack by pronoun-proclaiming liberals.

It’s hard to overstate how much cultural changes have shaped the right wing of American conservatism.

Beliefs about family and sexuality that were commonplace when Kraft was growing up in a Milwaukee suburb in the late 1970s and early 1980s, tinkering with electronics with his father, now can mark people like him as outcasts in the wider world.

“If you say anything negative about trans people, or if you say ’I feel sorry for you. This is a clinical diagnosis’ … Well, you are a bigot,” says Kraft, 58, a member of Mannon’s congregation. “People with normal, mainstream family values- – churchgoing, believing in God — suddenly it’s something they should be ostracized for.”

But in today’s world, words like “normal” don’t mean what they once did.

That infuriates Kraft, who energized the Republican Party of St. Croix County as its leader but stepped down last year after a quote on the party’s website – “If you want peace, prepare for war” – set off a public firestorm. He moved to a neighboring county earlier this year.

He ticks off the accusations leveled at people like him: sexist, homophobic, racist.

But such talk, he says, has lost its power.

“Now it’s just noise. It’s lost all its meaning.”

___

The plans, if they are mentioned at all, are spoken of quietly.

But sit in enough small-town bars, drive enough small-town roads, and you’ll occasionally hear people talk about what they intend to do if things go really bad for America.

There are the solar panels if the electricity grid fails. There’s extra gasoline for cars and diesel for generators. There are shelves of non-perishable food, sometimes enough to last for months.

There are the guns, though that is almost never discussed with outsiders.

“I’ve got enough,” says one man, sitting in a Hudson coffee shop.

“I would rather not get into that with a reporter,” says Kraft.

The fears here are mostly about crime and civil unrest. People still talk about the 2020 protests, when they say you could stand in Hudson and see the distant glow of fires in Minneapolis. That frightened many people, and not just conservative Republicans.

But there are other fears, too. About government crackdowns. About firearm seizures. About the possibility that people might have to take up arms against their own government.

Those prospects seem distant, murky, including to the self-declared patriots. The most dire possibilities are spoken about only theoretically.

Still, they are spoken about.

“I pray it will always be that the overthrow is at the ballot box,” says Carlson, who seems genuinely pained at the idea of violence.

“We don’t want to use guns,” he continues. “That would be just horrible.”

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Follow Tim Sullivan on Twitter at @ByTimSullivan


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‘Same-sex marriage’ bill wins Senate passage

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate passed bipartisan legislation Tuesday to protect ‘same-sex marriages.’

The bill, which would ensure that same-sex and interracial marriages are enshrined in federal law, was approved 61-36 on Tuesday, including support from 12 Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the legislation was “a long time coming” and part of America’s “difficult but inexorable march towards greater equality.”

Democrats are moving quickly to ram through controversial legislation, while the party still holds the majority in both chambers of Congress. The legislation now moves to the House for a final vote.

Passage came after the Senate rejected three Republican amendments to protect the rights of religious institutions and others to still oppose such marriages. Supporters of the legislation argued those amendments were unnecessary.

Most Republicans oppose the legislation, saying it is unnecessary and citing concerns about religious liberty. And some conservative groups stepped up opposition in recent weeks, lobbying Republican supporters to switch their votes.

“Marriage is the exclusive, lifelong, conjugal union between one man and one woman, and any departure from that design hurts the indispensable goal of having every child raised in a stable home by the mom and dad who conceived him,” the Heritage Foundation’s Roger Severino, vice president of domestic policy, wrote in a recent blog post arguing against the bill.

In an effort to win the 10 Republican votes necessary to overcome a filibuster in the 50-50 Senate, Democrats delayed consideration until after the midterm elections, hoping that would relieve political pressure on GOP senators who might be wavering.

Eventual support from 12 Republicans gave Democrats the votes they needed.

Along with Tillis, Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman supported the bill early on and have lobbied their GOP colleagues to support it. Also voting for the legislation were Republican Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Todd Young of Indiana, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Mitt Romney of Utah, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming and Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska.


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Haley signals 2024 openness despite pledge to back Trump

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Nikki Haley, U.N. ambassador under President Donald Trump, said Tuesday that she would take the Christmas holiday to mull a possible 2024 presidential bid, contradicting her statement last year that she wouldn’t enter the race if Trump opted to run again.

“We are taking the holidays to kind of look at what the situation is,” the former South Carolina governor said during an event at her alma mater, Clemson University, sponsored by Turning Point USA. “If we decide to get into it, we’ll put 1,000% in, and we’ll finish it.”

The comments resembled Haley’s remarks at last week’s Republican Jewish Coalition gathering in Las Vegas, where she was among 10 potential Republican White House hopefuls to make their pitches in the GOP’s first major confab of the 2024 election cycle.

“I’ve never lost an election, and I’m not going to start now,” Haley said, in a line she repeated Tuesday at Clemson.

But Haley’s new tone stands in stark contrast with April 2021, when she replied “yes” when asked during a visit to a historically Black university in her home state if she would support a future Trump presidential campaign. Haley also then noted that she would not seek her party’s nomination if Trump were also running.

“I would not run if President Trump ran, and I would talk to him about it,” Haley said then, asked by The Associated Press if a possible Trump bid could preclude her own effort, were he to announce first. “That’s something that we’ll have a conversation about at some point, if that decision is something that has to be made.”

Haley’s staffers on Tuesday declined to say if such a conversation had taken place, or what had caused Haley to change her tone on what 2024 may hold for her, now that Trump is officially in the race.

Haley, who served six years as South Carolina’s governor before Trump asked her to join his Cabinet, was U.N. ambassador for two years before leaving on her own accord. The coming years included moves that have nodded toward a possible bid for higher office, including moving back to South Carolina, launching a political action committee and publishing a memoir.

Like other Trump administration officials considering presidential bids, including former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Haley has walked a tightrope between criticism and praise of the former president. Following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, Haley said Trump had been “badly wrong” for in her opinion of stoking the crowd before the riot and that his “actions since Election Day will be judged harshly by history.”

Since then, Haley has promoted the administration’s accomplishments and even defended her former boss as “opinionated,” as she did in early 2021.

A Trump campaign spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday on Haley’s remarks. Taylor Budowich, a former Trump spokesman now working for his super PAC, MAGA Inc., dismissed Haley by calling it “unfortunate to see politicians who President Trump made relevant use 2024 as life support for their political career.”

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP


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NAACP: ‘Scant’ info in records about election integrity unit

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia NAACP said Tuesday it was “deeply disappointed” after receiving “scant” information of substance in response to a wide-ranging public records request it made with the state’s Republican attorney general about his new election integrity unit.

After expressing concerns that the unit could lend credence to election-fraud conspiracies, the civil rights group paid a deposit of more than $19,000 for a records request related to its organization, staffing, activities and other matters. It received documents from Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office in early November and released them Tuesday.

The NAACP sought 17 detailed categories of information about the unit, according to the correspondence. While the responsive documents span hundreds of pages, scores are news clippings. In 11 of the 17 categories, including a request for “all records concerning the staffing” of the unit and another for records dealing with “procedures, policies, practices” and training materials, Miyares’ office said it had no responsive documents.

The group also asked for any records identifying the number of convictions for crimes constituting “election cheating” in Virginia in each year since 2008; the attorney general’s office said it had no such records.

“This unit is plainly a paper tiger, a public relations ploy to pander to the election deniers and conspiracy theorists who are the real force undermining public confidence in our elections,” Robert Barnette Jr., president of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP, said at a news conference.

Barnette reiterated the group’s call to disband the unit.

Victoria LaCivita, Miyares’ spokeswoman, said in an email that the NAACP was engaging in “groundless attacks that are offensive, ridiculous and without single shred of proof.” She noted that Miyares has repeatedly affirmed that there is no evidence of widespread election fraud in Virginia. She said the unit was fielding citizen complaints and handling lawsuits involving elections issues and irregularities — “exactly what it was created to do.”

“Due to the NAACP’s inappropriate and baseless attack, we continue to expect an apology on behalf of the hundreds of men and women at the Office of the Attorney General who work every day protecting the rights and freedoms of all Virginians,” she wrote.

The NAACP announced that it was pursuing the Freedom of Information Act request in October, after Miyares said in September he was forming the election integrity unit “to help restore confidence in our democratic process in the Commonwealth.”

The request pertained only to the attorney general’s office. Election-related fraud cases often are investigated and prosecuted at the local level.

Some documents included talking points, correspondence with journalists and lawmakers, and emails from the unit’s leader, Senior Assistant Attorney General Joshua Lief, to members of the public who wrote with either praise or criticism.

“I hear your concerns and I can assure you the mission of this unit is to call balls and strikes under the Code of Virginia. It is not to target one political party or group of voters,” Lief wrote in one email to a constituent.

Nearly 300 records were withheld under exemptions to the public records law, according to the attorney general’s office.

“We were deeply disappointed in the scant amount of information related to a unit that the attorney general touted as essential,” Barnette said.

The NAACP pursued the request with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Office of the General Counsel of the NAACP and the law firm Hogan Lovells. It ultimately paid just over $9,500 for the records. The attorney general’s office provided a refund of nearly $10,000 after the review took less time than expected.

Barnette said Tuesday he believed the office charged what he characterized as exorbitant fees to try to dissuade the NAACP from its pursuit.

But LaCivita said fulfilling the request was a “massive undertaking” that required over 200 staff hours from over 20 employees and noted that the NAACP sought documents from a span of 15 years.

In an op-ed in The Washington Post in October, Miyares said the creation of the unit amounted to a restructuring of employees who were already working on election matters. He also wrote that there was no widespread fraud in Virginia or anywhere else during the 2020 election.

LaCivita said the unit had received complaints connected to this month’s elections, but she could not comment on whether any investigations had resulted.

Similar units in other states are looking into scattered complaints after the midterms but have provided no indication of systemic problems.

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Fields reported from Washington.


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Recount efforts hold up Pennsylvania election certifications

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania elections officials said Tuesday “a handful” of counties have not fully reported results from this month’s election, at least in part because organized efforts to seek recounts are pending in court.

The Department of State declined to say how many of the state’s 67 counties failed to meet the deadline for certification — the end of the day Monday.

“We continue to work with a handful of counties to obtain their full certification results,” agency spokesperson Amy Gulli said in an email. “It’s a fluid situation as our team is actively receiving new information from counties all the time. When the secretary officially certifies any of the results, we will notify the media and the public via press release.”

Challenges organized or supported by Republican and other conservative groups are being pursued weeks after the election without evidence emerging of problems that might change the results and after counties have completed post-election checks to verify the vote tallies are accurate.

The Department of State needs certified election results from all counties so it can compile the official results that acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman will produce, including for the high-profile contests for governor won by Attorney General Josh Shapiro and for U.S. Senate won by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, both Democrats.

There is no deadline for Chapman’s certification, but terms in the state Legislature start next month and the results of federal elections such as U.S. Senate and House are normally sent to Congress in mid-December, the agency said.

The state election agency said Monday that counties are required to certify election returns unless there is a “legally valid and properly filed recount petition.” In those cases, the Department of State said, counties are supposed to certify races that are not implicated in the recount effort.

The recounts are not being pursued because races were close enough to trigger automatic recounts or by losing candidates who would have to pay for them.

In Berks County, the local Republican Committee and 94 voters sought recounts in more than two dozen precincts last week. Clay Breece, the Berks GOP chairman, has said his group fielded reports that electronic machines were switching votes but is not claiming the election was stolen.

Berks County government spokesperson Stephanie Weaver said the allegations involve 30 of the county’s 202 precincts.

“As far as where those petitions are, we are still waiting for them to be assigned to a judge and a court hearing to be scheduled,” Weaver said Tuesday.

Challenges in Westmoreland County held up certification in five of its 307 precincts, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported, over allegations voting machines were inaccurate and claims poll workers had mishandled mail-in ballots from people attempting to vote in person.

Three voters in Blair County sought a hand count of votes from the contests for governor and U.S. Senate from a single precinct in Altoona. During a hearing on Monday, the county’s lawyer argued the challengers needed to seek recounts for the entire county because those two offices were on the ballot in all of Blair’s precincts.

“If they do not bring forth allegations of particularized fraud or error — meaning not just general mistake, but this is a fraud, this is the specific error — if they are not going to specify that, then every precinct is required to be opened,” Blair County elections lawyer Nathan Karn said in a phone interview Tuesday. He said the deadline to seek such a countywide recount has passed.

The three voters’ lawyer, Thomas Forr, said a volunteer with the Audit the Vote PA organization paid $102 in court fees, the Altoona Mirror reported. A message seeking comment was left for Forr.

Audit the Vote PA head Toni Shuppe declined comment, saying in an email that her group would not “engage with propaganda media sources.” The judge in that matter has not ruled whether to dismiss the petition or order a recount.

In Luzerne County, where paper shortages caused Election Day ballot problems, the election board deadlocked Monday on whether to report official vote tallies to the state but it appears that vote will occur on Wednesday. Allegheny County’s Board of Elections voted Monday to certify their election results at 1,311 polling places but opted not to vote to certify results from 12 polling places where recount petitions had been filed.


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U.S. senator’s son announces bid for West Virginia governor

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Republican state lawmaker Moore Capito, the son of U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, announced Tuesday he’s running for governor in 2024.

Capito, 40, a Charleston-area lawyer, has represented Kanawha County in the West Virginia House of Delegates since 2016. He serves as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

In a video announcing his campaign for governor, Moore said he wants to reduce taxes, improve student achievement in schools and invest in business development and energy infrastructure in the state.

“Moore knows that Joe Biden’s War on Energy is a War on West Virginia,” a press release reads. “To beat back Biden and the Left, we need a fighter who is battle tested and understands the stakes.”

“Governor Capito will mean great news for West Virginia’s economy, and bad news for Biden’s leftwing agenda.”

Captio said one goal is to put reading and math specialists in every elementary and middle school in West Virginia, which ranked well below the U.S. average in the most recent countrywide assessment of reading and mathematics among fourth and eighth graders.

He also criticized President Joe Biden on his “refusal to strengthen security” on the Southern Border.

West Virginia has experienced the most per capita opioid-related overdose deaths out of any state in the nation.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican who held office since 2017, has said publicly multiple times in recent months that he is considering a run for U.S. Senate, although he has yet to make a formal announcement.


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Oath Keepers boss guilty of seditious conspiracy in 1/6 case

WASHINGTON (AP) — Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted Tuesday of seditious conspiracy for a violent plot to overturn President Joe Biden’s election, handing the Justice Department a major victory in its massive prosecution of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

A Washington, D.C., jury found Rhodes guilty of sedition after three days of deliberations in the nearly two-month-long trial that showcased the far-right extremist group’s efforts to keep Republican Donald Trump in the White House at all costs.

Rhodes was acquitted of two other conspiracy charges. A co-defendant — Kelly Meggs, who led the antigovernment group’s Florida chapter — was also convicted of seditious conspiracy, while three other associates were cleared of that charge. Jurors found all five defendants guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding: Congress’ certification of Biden’s electoral victory.

The verdict, while mixed, marks a significant milestone for the Justice Department and is likely to clear the path for prosecutors to move ahead at full steam in upcoming trials of other extremists accused of sedition.

Rhodes and Meggs are the first people in nearly three decades to be found guilty at trial of seditious conspiracy — a rarely used Civil War-era charge that can be difficult to prove. The offense calls for up to 20 years behind bars.

It could embolden investigators, whose work has expanded beyond those who attacked the Capitol to focus on others linked to Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland recently named a veteran prosecutor, Jack Smith, to serve as special counsel to oversee key aspects of a probe into efforts to subvert the election as well as a separate investigation into the retention of classified documents at Trump’s Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago.

Garland said after the verdict that the Justice Department “is committed to holding accountable those criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy on January 6, 2021.”

“Democracy depends on the peaceful transfer of power. By attempting to block the certification of the 2020 presidential election results, the defendants flouted and trampled the rule of law,” Steven M. D’Antuono, assistant director in charge of the FBI Washington Field Office, said in an emailed statement. “This case shows that force and violence are no match for our country’s justice system.”

Using dozens of encrypted messages, recordings and surveillance video, prosecutors made the case that Rhodes began shortly after the 2020 election to prepare an armed rebellion to stop the transfer of presidential power.

Over seven weeks of testimony, jurors heard how Rhodes rallied his followers to fight to defend Trump, discussed the prospect of a “bloody” civil war and warned the Oath Keepers may have to “rise up in insurrection” to defeat Biden if Trump didn’t act.

Defense attorneys accused prosecutors of twisting their clients’ words and insisted the Oath Keepers came to Washington only to provide security for figures such as Roger Stone, a longtime Trump ally. The defense focused heavily on seeking to show that Rhodes’ rhetoric was just bluster and that the Oath Keepers had no plan before Jan. 6 to attack the Capitol.

Rhodes intends to appeal, defense attorney James Lee Bright told reporters. Another Rhodes lawyer, Ed Tarpley, described the verdict as a “mixed bag,” adding, “This is not a total victory for the government in any way, shape or form.”

“We feel like we presented a case that showed through evidence and testimony that Mr. Rhodes did not commit the crime of seditious conspiracy,” Tarpley said.

On trial alongside Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, and Meggs, were Kenneth Harrelson, another Florida Oath Keeper; Thomas Caldwell, a retired Navy intelligence officer from Virginia; and Jessica Watkins, who led an Ohio militia group.

Caldwell was convicted on two counts and acquitted on three others, including seditious conspiracy. His attorney, David Fischer, called the verdict “major victory” for his client and a “major defeat” for the Justice Department. He also said he would appeal the two convictions.

Jury selection for a second group of Oath Keepers facing seditious conspiracy charges is scheduled to begin next week. Several members of the Proud Boys, including the former national chairman Enrique Tarrio, are also scheduled to go to trial on the sedition charge in December.

In an extraordinary move, Rhodes took the stand to tell jurors there was no plan to attack the Capitol and insist that his followers who went inside the building went rogue.

Rhodes testified that he had no idea that his followers were going to join the mob and storm the Capitol and said he was upset after he found out that some did. Rhodes said they were acting “stupid” and outside their mission for the day.

Prosecutors said the Oath Keepers saw an opportunity to advance their plot to stop the transfer of power and sprang into action when the mob started storming the Capitol. The Capitol attack was a “means to an end” for the Oath Keepers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy told jurors in her closing argument.

Jurors heard how Rhodes spent thousands of dollars on an AR-platform rifle, magazines, mounts, sights and other equipment on his way to Washington ahead of the riot. They watched surveillance footage from the Virginia hotel where some Oath Keepers stashed weapons for “quick reaction force” teams prosecutors said were ready to get weapons into the city quickly if they were needed. The weapons were never deployed.

On Jan. 6, Oath Keepers wearing combat gear were seen on camera shouldering their way through the crowd and into the Capitol. Rhodes remained outside like a “general surveying his troops on the battlefield,” a prosecutor said. After the riot, Rhodes and other Oath Keepers went to an Olive Garden restaurant to celebrate, according to prosecutors.

The trial revealed new details about Rhodes’ efforts to pressure Trump to fight to stay in White House in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6. Shortly after the election, in a group chat that included Stone called “FOS” or “Friends of Stone,” Rhodes wrote, “So will you step up and push Trump to FINALLY take decisive action?”

Another man testified that after the riot, Rhodes tried to persuade him to pass along a message to Trump that urged the president not to give up his fight to hold onto power. The intermediary — a man who told jurors he had an indirect way to reach the president — recorded his meeting with Rhodes and went to the FBI instead of giving the message to Trump.

“If he’s not going to do the right thing and he’s just gonna let himself be removed illegally then we should have brought rifles,” Rhodes said during that meeting, according to a recording played for jurors. “We should have fixed it right then and there. I’d hang (expletive) Pelosi from the lamppost,” Rhodes said, referring to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Three other Oath Keepers previously pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy. The last time the Justice Department had secured such a conviction at trial, though, was in the 1995 prosecution of Islamic militants who plotted to bomb New York City landmarks.

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Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press journalists Nathan Ellgren and Andrew Harnik contributed.

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For full coverage of the Capitol riot, go to https://www.apnews.com/capitol-siege

More on Donald Trump-related investigations: https://apnews.com/hub/donald-trump


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Court says Trump aide Meadows must testify in election probe

ATLANTA (AP) — The South Carolina Supreme Court says former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows must testify before a special grand jury that’s investigating whether then-President Donald Trump and his allies illegally tried to influence the 2020 election in Georgia.

The state high court on Tuesday affirmed a lower court ruling last month ordering Meadows to appear before the panel. The former Republican congressman is the latest Trump associate to lose a legal fight over a summons to testify.

The South Carolina Supreme Court opinion says the justices reviewed Meadows’ arguments and found them to be “manifestly without merit.”

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who’s leading the investigation, has said Meadows is an important witness. Because he doesn’t live in Georgia, she had to use a process that involved getting a judge in South Carolina, where Meadows lives, to order him to travel to Atlanta to testify.

Meadows had originally been ordered to testify Wednesday. It was not immediately clear whether that would be rescheduled.

In a petition seeking his testimony, Willis wrote that Meadows attended a Dec. 21, 2020, meeting at the White House with Trump and others “to discuss allegations of voter fraud and certification of Electoral College votes from Georgia and other states.”

The next day, Willis wrote, Meadows made a “surprise visit” to Cobb County, just outside Atlanta, where an audit of signatures on absentee ballot envelopes was being conducted. He asked to observe the audit but wasn’t allowed to because it wasn’t open to the public, the petition says.

Meadows also sent emails to Justice Department officials after the election alleging voter fraud in Georgia and elsewhere and requesting investigations, Willis wrote. And he took part in a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, during which Trump suggested that Raffensperger, the state’s top elections official and a Republican, could “find” enough votes to overturn the president’s narrow loss in the state.

An attorney for Meadows had argued that executive privilege and other rights shield him from testifying. He previously invoked that privilege in a fight against subpoenas issued by the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Meadows has been fighting investigations into the violent 2021 insurrection since last year and has so far avoided having to testify about his role and his knowledge of the former president’s actions. He turned over thousands of texts to the House Jan. 6 committee before eventually refusing to do an interview.

The House held Meadows in contempt of Congress for defying the subpoena, but the Justice Department declined to prosecute.

Special grand juries in Georgia cannot issue indictments. Instead, they can gather evidence and compel testimony and then can recommend further action, including criminal charges, in a final report. It is ultimately up to the district attorney to decide whether to seek an indictment from a regular grand jury.


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