SRN - Political News

Arizona’s new voting laws that require proof of citizenship are not discriminatory, a US judge rules

PHOENIX (AP) — A federal judge is upholding provisions of new Arizona laws that would require counties to verify the status of registered voters who haven’t provided proof of U.S. citizenship and cross-check voter registration information with various government databases.

In a ruling Thursday, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton concluded Arizona legislators did not discriminate when they adopted the laws and the state does have an interest in preventing voter fraud and limiting voting to those individuals eligible to vote.

“Considering the evidence as a whole, the court concludes that Arizona’s interests in preventing non-citizens from voting and promoting public confidence in Arizona’s elections outweighs the limited burden voters might encounter when required to provide (documentary proof of citizenship),” she wrote.

However, Bolton said the requirement for individuals using a state registration form to include their state or country of birth violates a provision of the Civil Rights Act and a section of the National Voter Registration Act. Doing so, she explained, would result in the investigation of only naturalized citizens based on county recorders’ subjective beliefs that a naturalized individual is a non-citizen.

The lengthy ruling summarizes testimony from a bench trial in late 2023 at which experts testified about Arizona’s history of voting discrimination. That included literacy tests effectively precluding Native American and Latino voters from participating and voter roll purges in the 1970s and 80s that created barriers for minorities to re-register to vote.

That was the past, the judge wrote, noting there was no evidence presented by the plaintiffs reflecting an intent by lawmakers to suppress voter registrations of members of minority groups or naturalized citizens when they considered the bills in 2022.

The laws were passed amid a wave of proposals that Republicans introduced in the wake of Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in Arizona over Donald Trump.

In an earlier ruling, Bolton blocked a requirement in Arizona law that people who use a federal voter registration form provide additional proof of citizenship if they want to vote for president or use the state’s vote-by-mail system. The judge had ruled those provisions were trumped by a 1993 federal voter registration law.

She also had ruled that a 2018 consent decree prevents Arizona from enforcing its new requirement to reject any state voter registration forms that aren’t accompanied by proof of citizenship. The decree said Arizona may not reject an otherwise valid state voter registration form without proof of citizenship, but rather must register such an applicant for federal elections.

Arizona is required to accept the federal registration form, but anyone who does not provide proof of citizenship is only allowed to vote for president, the U.S. House or Senate. The federal form requires people to swear they are U.S. citizens, but there is no proof requirement.

Federal-only voters have been a subject of political wrangling since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that Arizona cannot require documentary proof of citizenship for people to vote in national elections. The state responded by creating two classes of voters: those who can vote in all races and those who can vote only in federal elections.

After being approved on party-line votes, then-Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed the measures into law.

“Election integrity means counting every lawful vote and prohibiting any attempt to illegally cast a vote,” Ducey wrote in a March 2022 letter when approving one of the proposals.

The laws were challenged by voting rights groups and the U.S. Department of Justice. They argued the new rules would make registering voters more difficult. Some also suggested the statutes were an attempt to get the issue back in front of a more conservative Supreme Court.

While supporters said the measures would affect only voters who have not shown proof of citizenship, voting advocates claimed hundreds of thousands of people who haven’t recently updated their voter registration or driver’s license could be affected.

The ruling states that Arizona has required documentary proof of citizenship since 2005, and the new laws supplement that requirement to ensure non-citizens do not register to vote or remain on the voter rolls.

One of the two measures examined by Bolton would require state election officials to cross check registration information with various government databases to try to prove their citizenship and report anyone they can’t find to prosecutors.

“The court finds that though it may occur, non-citizens voting in Arizona is quite rare, and non-citizen voter fraud in Arizona is rarer still,” the ruling states. “But while the voting laws are not likely to meaningfully reduce possible non-citizen voting in Arizona, they could help to prevent non-citizens from registering or voting.”

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Congress approves short-term extension to avoid shutdown, buy more time for final spending agreement

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress passed another short-term spending measure Thursday that would keep one set of federal agencies operating through March 8 and another set through March 22, avoiding a shutdown for parts of the federal government that would otherwise kick in Saturday. The bill now goes to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.

The short-term extension is the fourth in recent months, and many lawmakers expect it to be the last for the current fiscal year. House Speaker Mike Johnson said negotiators had completed six of the annual spending bills that fund federal agencies and had “almost final agreement on the others.”

“We’ll get the job done,” Johnson said as he exited a closed-door meeting with Republican colleagues.

The House acted first Thursday. The vote to approve the extension was 320-99. It easily cleared the two-thirds majority needed for passage. Democrats overwhelmingly voted to avert a partial shutdown. But the vote was much more divided with Republicans, 113 in support and 97 against.

The Senate then took up the bill and approved it during an evening vote of 77-13.

“When we pass this bill, we will have, thank God, avoided a shutdown with all its harmful effects on the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said moments before the vote.

Next week, the House and Senate are expected to take up a package of six spending bills and get them to the president before March 8. Then, lawmakers would work to fund the rest of the government by the new March 22 deadline.

At the end of the process, Congress is expected to have approved more than $1.6 trillion in spending for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. That amount is roughly in line with the previous fiscal year and is what former Speaker Kevin McCarthy negotiated with the White House last year before eight disgruntled Republican lawmakers joined with Democrats a few months later and voted to oust him from the position.

Some of the House’s most conservative members wanted deeper cuts for non-defense programs than that agreement allowed through its spending caps. They also sought an array of policy changes that Democrats opposed. They were hoping the prospect of a shutdown could leverage more concessions.

“Last I checked, the Republicans actually have a majority in the House of Representatives, but you wouldn’t know it if you looked at our checkbook because we are all too willing to continue the policy choices of Joe Biden and the spending levels of Nancy Pelosi,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.

But Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., countered before the vote that shutdowns are damaging and encouraged lawmakers to vote for the short-term extension.

“I want the American people to know, Mr. Speaker, that this negotiation has been difficult, but to close the government down at a time like this would hurt people who should not be hurt,” Fleischmann said.

The split within the GOP conference on spending and their tiny House majority bogged down the efforts to get the bills passed on a timely basis. With the Senate also struggling to complete work on all 12 appropriations bills, lawmakers have resorted to a series of short-term measures to keep the government funded.

The temporary extension funds the departments of Agriculture, Transportation, Interior and others through March 8. It funds the Pentagon, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and the State Department through March 22.

While congressional leaders have said they’ve reached final agreement on what will be in the first package of spending bills voted on next week, there’s still room for an impasse on the second package to be voted on later in the month.

“We are working in a divided government. That means to get anything done, we have to work together, in good faith to reach reasonable outcomes,” said Sen. Patty Murray, the Democratic chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The renewed focus on this year’s spending bills doesn’t include the separate, $95.3 billion aid package that the Senate approved for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan earlier this month, with much of that money being spent in the U.S. to replenish America’s military arsenal. The bill also contained about $9 billion in humanitarian assistance for civilians in Gaza and the West Bank, Ukraine and other war zones.

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Miles apart, Biden and Trump tour U.S.-Mexico border highlighting immigration as an election issue

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Three hundred miles apart, President Joe Biden and likely Republican challenger Donald Trump walked the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas Thursday, dueling trips underscoring how important immigration has become for the 2024 election and how much each man wants to use it to his advantage.

Each chose an optimal location to make his points, their schedules remarkably similar. They each got a briefing on operations and issues, walked along the border and gave remarks that overlapped. But that’s where the comparisons ended.

Biden, who sought to blame Republicans for tanking a border security deal on Trump’s orders, went to the Rio Grande Valley city of Brownsville. For nine years, this was the busiest corridor for illegal crossings, but they have dropped sharply in recent months.

The president walked a quiet stretch of the border along the Rio Grande, and received a lengthy operations briefing from Homeland Security agents who talked to him bluntly about what more they needed.

“I want the American people to know what we’re trying to get done,” he said to officials there. “We can’t afford not to do this.”

Trump, meanwhile, continued his dialed-up attacks on migrants arriving to the border, deriding them as “terrorists” and criminals.

“This is a Joe Biden invasion,” Trump said.

Trump was in Eagle Pass, roughly 325 miles northwest of Brownsville, in the corridor that’s currently seeing the largest number of crossings. He went to a local park that has become a Republican symbol of defiance against the federal immigration enforcement practices it mocks.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas National Guard soldiers gave him a tour, showing off razor wire they put up on Abbott’s orders and in defiance of a U.S. Supreme Court order.

“This is like a war,” Trump said.

The number of people who are illegally crossing the U.S. border has been rising for years for complicated reasons that include climate change, war and unrest in other nations, the economy, and cartels that see migration as a cash cow.

The administration claims its approach is to pair crackdowns at the border with increasing legal pathways for migrants designed to steer people into arriving by plane with sponsors, not illegally on foot to the border.

The numbers of migrants flowing across the U.S-Mexico border have far outpaced the capacity of an immigration system that has not been substantially updated in decades. Trump and Republicans claim Biden is refusing to act.

Among those voters, worries about the nation’s broken immigration system are rising on both sides of the political divide, which could be especially problematic for Biden.

According to an AP-NORC poll in January, the share of voters concerned about immigration rose to 35% from 27% last year. Fifty-five percent of Republicans say the government needs to focus on immigration in 2024, while 22% of Democrats listed immigration as a priority. That’s up from 45% and 14%, respectively, from December 2022.

Trump landed to cheers from a crowd gathered at the small airport who held signs that read: “Trump 2024.” Some yelled, “Way to go, Trump.” He chatted with supporters for a few minutes before getting into his waiting SUV.

From Air Force One, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas dismissed claims the president’s visit was political, and noted how badly his department that manages the U.S.-Mexico border needed extra funding that would have been contained in the collapsed bill.

In a symbol of the political divide, the Republican-controlled House voted to impeach Mayorkas over the Biden administration’s handling of the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats say the charges amount to a policy dispute, not the “high crimes and misdemeanors” laid out as a bar for impeachment in the Constitution.

Trump was also to be interviewed by Fox News’ Sean Hannity from Shelby Park, an expanse along the Rio Grande owned by the city of Eagle Pass.

Trump has laid out updated immigration proposals that would mark a dramatic escalation of the approach he used in office and that drew alarms from civil rights activists and numerous court challenges.

Some of those include reviving and expanding his travel ban, imposing “ideological screening” for migrants, terminating all work permits and cutting off funding for shelter and transportation for people who are in the country illegally. Trump has also pointed to the killing of a 22-year-old nursing student in Georgia. The suspect is a Venezuelan illegal migrant.

“Biden is preposterously trying to blame me and Congressional Republicans for the national security and public safety disaster he has created,” Trump wrote in an op-ed in the British newspaper The Daily Mail. “He created this catastrophe. “

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Arizona Republicans are pushing bills to punish migrants with the border a main election year focus

PHOENIX (AP) — Republicans in swing state Arizona are broadcasting a tough border stance with legislation aimed at punishing migrants who enter the United States illegally. The proponent of one bill has suggested it would lawfully allow property owners to shoot and kill migrants criminally trespassing on their property.

Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs is expected to veto the trespassing bill as well as one that cleared the second of both houses Wednesday that would make it a state crime to enter Arizona illegally between ports of entry.

“They are acting on clear political signals from the voters that immigration and the border is their No. 1 issue,” Stan Barnes, a Phoenix-based political consultant and former Republican state senator, said of the GOP lawmakers. “This is what their constituents want.”

Arrests for illegal crossings topped 2 million for the first time in each of the government’s last two budget years, and Arizona in recent months emerged as the most popular area to cross.

The state Senate’s GOP said the “Arizona Border Invasion Act” would “protect Arizona citizens and communities from the crime and security threats associated with the current border invasion caused by the Biden Administration’s refusal to enforce immigration laws.”

It would allow local law enforcement to arrest non-U.S. citizens who enter Arizona from anywhere but a lawful entrance point. A violation would be a top-tier misdemeanor – or a low-level felony for second offenses.

“I think we are seeing an effort in these bills to advance an inflammatory immigration agenda,” said Noah Schramm, policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union in Arizona. “They seem to trying to force Hobbs into a situation where she has to say ‘no,’ and then they can say she is unwilling to do anything on the border.”

The moves in Arizona come as Republicans in several states, most notably Texas, trumpet tough immigration policies in the lead up to this year’s presidential election.

A federal judge on Thursday blocked a new Texas law that would give police broad powers to arrest migrants suspected of illegally entering the U.S., rejecting Republican Gov. Abbott’s immigration enforcement effort. The preliminary injunction pausing the law came as President Joe Biden and his likely Republican challenger in November, Donald Trump, were visiting distinct areas of the Texas-Mexico border.

Federal law already prohibits the unauthorized entry of migrants into the U.S. But Republicans in Arizona and Texas say that the U.S. government is not doing enough and they need additional state powers.

Hobbs “has declared on numerous occasions her disapproval for the lawlessness caused by the federal government’s open border policies,” said Arizona Sen. Janae Shamp, who sponsored the state border control bill. “Now is her chance to protect the citizens of Arizona by signing.”

Hobbs confirmed Thursday she planned to veto the bills and said she recognizes that Arizonans are frustrated by the situation on the border.

“But passing job killing, anti-business bills that demonize our communities is not the solution,” she said. “Instead of securing our border, these bills will simply raise costs, hurt our farmers, put Arizona entrepreneurs out of business, and destroy jobs for countless working class Arizonans.”

A separate Arizona bill that focuses on trespassing has raised eyebrows because of its author’s stated intention that it could be used by farmers to legally kill people crossing their properties.

But the text of the bill does not mention migrants or the border, instead making a few changes in an existing law.

Republican Rep. Justin Heap used the example of a rancher defending his property from migrants when he said his bill would close “a loophole” in the earlier law that allows a property owner to use deadly force against someone inside a home but not elsewhere on the property.

“We are seeing an increasingly larger number of migrants or human traffickers moving across farm and ranchland,” Heap told a committee hearing earlier this year.

His statement brought to mind one case in which border rancher George Kelly faces trial later this month in the fatal shooting of a migrant on his Nogales area property.

Abbott said in an interview with a conservative commentator earlier this year that his state was doing everything to stop migrants from crossing the border illegally short of shooting them “because of course the Biden administration would charge us with murder.”

This isn’t the first time Republican lawmakers in Arizona have tried to criminalize migrants who aren’t authorized to be in the United States.

When passing its landmark 2010 immigration bill, the Arizona Legislature considered expanding the state’s trespassing law to criminalize the presence of immigrants and imposed criminal penalties.

But the trespassing language was removed and replaced with a requirement that officers, while enforcing other laws, question people’s immigration status if they’re believed to be in the country illegally.

The questioning requirement was ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court despite the racial profiling concerns of critics, but courts barred enforcement of other sections of the law.

The law touched off a national furor with supporters calling for similar legislation for their own states and detractors calling for an economic boycott of Arizona.

Several other Arizona immigration laws have been thrown out by courts over the years.

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Trump says he cannot get fair trial this year in classified documents case

By Andrew Goudsward

FORT PIERCE, Florida (Reuters) -Donald Trump’s lawyers told a U.S. judge on Thursday that he believes he cannot get a fair trial this year on charges of mishandling classified documents after leaving the White House, while he campaigns to try to recapture the presidency.

U.S. Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is bringing the case against Trump, asked on Thursday for a July 8 start to the trial.

Lawyers for the former president said in their filing that Trump “strongly asserts that a fair trial cannot be conducted this year in a manner consistent with the Constitution.”

After making that assertion on the filing’s first page, however, they went on to suggest an Aug. 12, 2024, start to the trial on the seventh page. A Trump attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the discrepancy.

The filings were made ahead of a Friday court hearing where U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon plans to consider arguments on when to start the trial, one of four criminal prosecutions facing Trump, the clear frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.

Cannon previously pushed back several pre-trial deadlines, but said she would wait until Friday to consider moving the scheduled May 20 trial.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 40 federal counts accusing him of retaining sensitive national security documents at his Florida resort after leaving office in 2021 and obstructing U.S. government efforts to retrieve them.

Trump is charged alongside his personal aide Walt Nauta and Carlos de Oliveira, a property manager at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Trump has repeatedly sought to delay all four of the criminal cases against him, which he has claimed are part of a politically motivated effort to damage his election campaign.

Trump is due to face trial in state court in New York beginning on March 25 on charges that he falsified records to pay hush money to a porn star ahead of the 2016 election.

The timing of the other three cases remains uncertain and it is unclear whether any will go to trial before the November election.

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by Scott Malone and Daniel Wallis)

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California governor pushes back against criticism of fast food minimum wage law

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration has denied a news report that he pushed for an exception to the state’s new fast-food minimum wage law that benefits a wealthy campaign donor.

California’s minimum wage is $16 per hour. But starting April 1, most fast-food restaurants in the state must pay their workers at least $20 an hour under legislation Newsom signed last year to much fanfare. It doesn’t apply to restaurants that have on-site bakeries and sell bread as a stand-alone menu item.

That exception puzzled some industry watchers and was never fully explained by Newsom or other supporters of the law. But Bloomberg News on Wednesday reported it was connected to opposition from Panera Bread franchisee Greg Flynn, whose company owns 24 of the restaurants in California and has donated to Newsom’s campaigns.

“This story is absurd,” Newsom spokesperson Alex Stack said Thursday.

Flynn said in a statement Thursday that he opposed the initial legislation and suggested fast casual restaurants like bakeries, bagel shops and delis be excluded “if the intent of the bill was to address alleged labor code violations in fast food restaurants.”

But he denied asking for “an exemption or special considerations” and said he was surprised when the exemption appeared in the final bill. He said he met with Newsom’s staff about the bill alongside other restaurant owners but did not speak to the governor about it.

The Flynn Group and Flynn Properties operate 2,600 restaurants and fitness centers across 44 states, according to the company’s website. Campaign finance records show Flynn Properties and Greg Flynn — the founder, chairman and CEO — have donated more than $220,000 to Newsom’s political campaigns since 2017. That included a $100,000 donation to Newsom’s campaign to defeat a recall attempt in 2021.

The governor’s office is now arguing Panera Bread is not exempt from the law.

Stack said to be exempt from the minimum wage law as a bakery, restaurants must produce bread for sale on site. The Governor’s Office said many chain bakeries, such as Panera Bread, mix dough at a centralized off-site location and then ship that dough to the restaurant for baking and sale.

Since last year, Panera Bread has been reported as a restaurant exempt from the law and Newsom’s office has not said otherwise, even when the governor was directly asked why the chain was exempt.

A message left with Panera Bread about their baking process were not immediately returned. Flynn’s statement did not directly address that argument, but he says its likely his restaurants will have to raise wages either way.

“Such a narrow exemption has very little practical value. As it applies to all of our peer restaurants in the fast casual segment, we will almost certainly have to offer market value wages in order to attract and retain employees,” he said.

Republican leaders in the state Legislature highlighted the report and called for an investigation.

“Put simply, campaign contributions should not buy carveouts in legislation,” Republican state Senate leader Brian Jones said. “It’s unacceptable.”

Assemblymember James Gallagher, the Republican leader in the assembly, said Attorney General Rob Bonta or another entity responsible for investigating conflicts of interest should look into the matter.

“This exemption, there is no explanation for it. Someone had to push for it,” he said.

The law was authored by Assemblymember Chris Holden, a Democrat from Pasadena. Holden told reporters Thursday he was not involved in the negotiations over the bill’s final amendments, which included the $20 minimum wage increase and the exemption for bakeries. He said those talks happened between the business community and labor unions — groups Holden said were brought together “through the governor’s leadership.”

Holden said he did not know Flynn or his status as a Newsom campaign donor. He declined to discuss if there were any legitimate policy reasons for exempting bakeries from the law.

“I’m not going to try to start parceling every individual group,” Holden said. “The way that the bill moved forward, everyone who’s in is in.”

The law represented a compromise between labor unions and business groups. Tia Orr, executive director of the Service Employees International Union California, said the law was “a transformational step toward an economy that works for all, not just billionaires.”

“Like all transformational initiatives, it addressed difficult questions around its scope, including what constitutes a fast-food restaurant as opposed to a bakery, for example, and it involved literally hundreds of businesses in discussions,” Orr said. “But the big picture is clear: a half million fast food workers in our state now have the power to improve their workplaces.”

Dan Schnur, who teaches political communications at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley, said the issue has the potential to damage Newsom, much like when Newsom went to dinner at the French Laundry during the pandemic at a time when he was urging people to avoid public gatherings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. That issue gave momentum to a recall effort, which voters ultimately rejected.

“The last time the governor got in the middle of a restaurant-related controversy, his hesitation to address it turned a small problem into a much bigger one,” Schur said.

Lawmakers are considering more exemptions for the fast-food minimum wage increase. On Thursday, the state Senate approved a bill that would exclude fast-food restaurants in “airports, hotels, large event centers, theme parks, museums, gambling establishments, corporate campuses and certain public lands.”

Holden said workers in these restaurants are attempting to negotiate salaries higher than $20 per hour. He said they were concerned being included in the minimum wage law would hurt those negotiations.


Associated Press reporter Trân Nguyễn contributed.

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Federal prosecutors seek July trial for Trump in classified documents case

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal prosecutors are requesting a July 8 trial for former President Donald Trump on charges that he illegally retained and concealed classified documents. Defense lawyers say no trial should be conducted this year but proposed August 12 as an alternative possibility.

The dueling proposals were submitted Thursday ahead of a pivotal hearing in Florida at which the judge in the case, Aileen Cannon, is expected to set a trial date. The trial is currently set for May 20, but Cannon indicated months ago that she expected to revisit that date during Friday’s hearing.

The trial date in the classified documents prosecution has taken on added significance in light of the uncertainty surrounding a separate federal case in Washington charging Trump with scheming to overturn the 2020 presidential election. The Supreme Court said this week that it would hear arguments in late April on whether Trump as a former president is immune from prosecution, leaving it unclear whether that case might reach trial before the November election.

In their motion, defense lawyers made clear to Cannon their strong preference to avoid a trial in the current year while Trump — who faces four separate state and federal prosecutions — is campaigning for the Republican nomination for president.

A key element of the Trump team strategy has been to seek to delay his criminal cases until after the election. If elected president, Trump could order the Justice Department to dismiss the federal cases or could seek to pardon himself.

“As the leading candidate in the 2024 election, President Trump strongly asserts that a fair trial cannot be conducted this year in a manner consistent with the Constitution, which affords President Trump a Sixth Amendment right to be present and to participate in these proceedings as well as…a First Amendment right that he shares with the American people to engage in campaign speech,” defense lawyers wrote.

But they proposed August 12 — weeks after the Republican National Convention — as a possible alternative trial date in the event Cannon seeks to move forward with a trial this year.

Defense lawyers have separately asked Cannon to dismiss the case, citing among other reasons the immunity argument that will soon be considered by the Supreme Court.

Of the four criminal cases that Trump faces, the only one with a trial date that seems poised to hold is a New York state prosecution charging him with falsifying business records in connection with hush money payments to a porn star. That case is set for trial on March 25.

Another case, brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, charges him with scheming to subvert the presidential election in Georgia in 2020. No trial date has been set.

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Biden nominates two Democrats, one Republican to federal energy regulator

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Thursday nominated two Democrats and one Republican to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), an independent panel that rules on energy transmission and liquefied natural gas projects.

The two Democrats nominated were David Rosner, a FERC energy industry analyst currently on detail with the U.S. Senate energy committee, and Judy Chang, an energy economics and policy expert and former undersecretary of energy and climate solutions for Massachusetts.

The Republican, Lindsay See, recommended by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is the solicitor general of West Virginia. The nominees must be confirmed by the Senate.

FERC has been mainly known recently for approving natural gas pipelines and LNG export terminals.

It is expected to issue rules this year that could expand or upgrade electricity transmission, getting power from wind and solar projects to cities, which would help implement measures in Biden’s climate legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act.

The panel, which has a maximum of five members, currently has two Democrats and one Republican. This month Biden promoted Willie Phillips to head FERC. Shortly afterwards, Allison Clements, the other Democrat, said she would not seek a second term after her current one expires June 30. Clements could choose to stay until year’s end.

If the nominees are confirmed, they could play a role in approving LNG projects after the lifting of Biden’s pause on new applications for exports of the fuel to big markets in Asia and Europe. The pause could last until after the Nov. 5 elections.

A backer of natural gas praised Biden for starting the process on filling FERC seats.

“Vacancies at FERC potentially risk the development of the energy infrastructure needed to deliver natural gas to American homes and businesses and to our allies abroad,” said Amy Andryszak, head of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America.

An environmentalist said the nominees have big roles to play in the switch to low-carbon energy.

“It would be a shame if these presidential appointees squandered the limited time left to transition off fossil fuels and ensure renewable energy is built responsibly,” said Gaby Sarri-Tobar, energy justice campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Bill Berkrot)

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FBI raids 2 homes owned by top aide to New York City Mayor Eric Adams

NEW YORK (AP) — Federal agents searched two properties owned by a top adviser to New York City Mayor Eric Adams on Thursday.

An FBI spokesperson confirmed that agents carried out morning raids at two Bronx addresses, which records show are owned by Winnie Greco, a former fundraiser for Adams who now serves as his director of Asian affairs.

The purpose of the investigation was not revealed, and it wasn’t immediately clear whether it was related to Adams. But it was another sign of deepening law enforcement scrutiny of the Democratic mayor and members of his inner circle.

A person with knowledge of the matter said the investigation that led to Thursday’s raid was being overseen by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn, and it was separate from a criminal inquiry being conducted by federal prosecutors in Manhattan that led FBI agents to seize Adams’ electronic devices as he left an event last fall.

The person wasn’t authorized to disclose information publicly about the investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

Neighbors of Greco’s said federal agents began searching the two homes, which are on the same block, at around 6 a.m. and remained in the area for several hours.

Greco was placed on administrative leave Thursday, according to a City Hall spokesperson. A prolific fundraiser, she had worked closely with Adams for over a decade, serving as his conduit to the city’s Asian-American communities.

In November, the city’s Department of Investigation opened a probe into her conduct following a news report that raised questions about her political fundraising and whether she used her position in the administration to obtain personal benefits.

According to that report, published by the local news outlet The City, Greco demanded that a city employee complete free renovations on her home when he was supposed to be working.

Greco is at least the third aide to Adams whose home has targeted by federal agents. In November, the FBI raided the home of Brianna Suggs, a top fundraiser for Adams, and Rana Abbasova, who worked in the mayor’s international affairs office. Four days later, agents quietly seized the mayor’s cellphones and an iPad as he was leaving an event in Manhattan.

That investigation, which is being led by Manhattan prosecutors, is believed to be focused on whether the Adams campaign conspired with the Turkish government to receive illegal campaign contributions from foreign sources, funneled through straw donors, according to a warrant reported on by The New York Times.

Adams has repeatedly deflected questions about the investigation while stressing that he has not officially been accused of wrongdoing.

“Our administration will always follow the law, and we always expect all our employees to adhere to the strictest ethical guidelines,” a spokesperson for the mayor said in a statement Thursday. “As we have repeatedly said, we don’t comment on matters that are under review, but will fully cooperate with any review underway.”

There was no immediate response to a voicemail seeking comment left at a phone number listed as Greco’s.


Associated Press photographer Mary Altaffer contributed to this report.

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What makes Super Tuesday so important? It’s all about the delegates. Here’s a look at the numbers

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than one-third of the total delegates available in both the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries will be awarded on Super Tuesday, when 16 states and one U.S. territory hold presidential nominating contests.

On the Republican side, 854 of 2,429 will be at stake on Super Tuesday, which is traditionally the biggest day on the presidential primary calendar when it comes to the number of states holding presidential primaries and caucuses, as well as the number of delegates in play. Democrats will award 1,420 delegates. Nobody will lock up the nomination on Super Tuesday, but each party’s frontrunner can get pretty close.

Former President Donald Trump, who has won every presidential contest in which he’s appeared on the ballot and earned 122 delegates, needs 1,093 more to hit his so-called “magic number” of 1,215. Once he receives that many delegates, he’ll have won a majority of available delegates to the Republican convention this summer and will be considered the party’s presumptive nominee.

The earliest Trump can hit that number is March 12, though that could change depending on how many delegates he receives on Super Tuesday and in the days leading up to it. The exact number of delegates available on a date can also change as state parties finalize their plans.

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, the last major candidate on the Republican side, enters this week having won a fraction of delegates available in four of the six states and territories that have awarded them thus far.

Republican delegate rules vary by state, but their system generally makes it easier for frontrunners to quickly rack up large numbers of delegates because many states — including Super Tuesday’s biggest prize, California — award all their delegates to candidates who win a majority of the vote. In Texas, which has the second biggest delegate haul, 150 delegates will be assigned based on the Super Tuesday primary results, while state officials say they will assign another 11 at the statewide convention in May.

On the Democratic side, President Joe Biden is in a position to pick up a substantial number of delegates. Biden’s magic number currently sits at 1,968, though that could shift slightly depending on how the party decides to handle New Hampshire, which broke party rules by holding its party primary in January. The earliest Biden can hit that figure is March 19. He currently has 206 delegates.

Democrats award delegates proportionally everywhere, making it easier for trailing candidates to pick up delegates, at least in theory. Biden’s major challenger, Rep. Dean Phillips, hasn’t been able to take advantage, but these rules open the door for ballot options like “uncommitted” or “no preference” to receive delegates, should they qualify by meeting a vote threshold of 15%, either statewide or in a congressional district.

These uncommitted delegates, who will arrive at the Democrats’ summer convention unpledged and can choose whom to vote for, have been the only thing between Biden and a clean sweep thus far. In Michigan, the “uncommitted” ballot option received two delegates. Seven Super Tuesday states – including Iowa, whose all-mail election will report results that day – offer some sort of “uncommitted” option.

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