Connect with us

Politics

Nation’s top governors under fire as three big states reckon with deadly crises

Published

on

Analysis by Maeve Reston, CNN
Updated 9:05 AM ET, Fri February 19, 2021

(CNN) — The multiple crises gripping the US — from a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic to a deadly winter storm that left millions of Texans without heat and potable water — have jeopardized the once-bright futures of three of the nation’s most prominent governors who are trying to defend their judgment, preparedness and oversight to furious residents in three of the biggest states in the country.

Republican Greg Abbott and Democrats Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom, who are all up for reelection in 2022, are facing very different problems — and different degrees of blame in what their critics view as lapses in judgment. But the white-hot scrutiny on all three of them underscores the increasing accountability for high-profile, big state governors after four years in which former President Donald Trump espoused a decentralized approach to the nation’s most pressing problems and elevated the responsibility of governors to provide for their people by essentially telling them they were on their own.
A fourth governor, Republican Ron DeSantis of Florida — who was mired in controversy for his haphazard handling of Covid-19 for much of last year — is also in the spotlight again this week, facing new accusations of political favoritism surrounding the placement of a pop-up vaccination site that was set up to serve residents from two affluent zip codes.
The devastating impact of the pandemic and the near collapse of Texas’ power grid has revealed the nation’s lack of cohesive planning for disasters — whether it is US readiness to treat and vaccinate millions of Americans in the grip of a deadly virus or to protect them from the alarming severity of major weather events, including winter storms, hurricanes and wildfires that have unfolded in the midst of a climate crisis.
    Governors are being asked to account for the pervasive problems that have been exposed by those events: gaping income equality, food insecurity, an appalling level of health inequity and the inefficiency of the nation’s health care delivery system. Even though governors cannot control the unpredictable path of a novel virus or the severity of a winter storm, weary Americans have no patience right now for excuses — much less a coverup when things go awry.
    Abbot, Texas’ Republican governor, is quickly becoming the embodiment of the risks of the Lone Star State’s laissez-faire, anti-regulation ethos as he struggles to explain why the state’s power grid was not prepared for the winter storm that led some Texans to burn furniture and fences to stay warm as another 13 million remain under boil water notices. He aggravated his own problems by foolishly rushing on Fox News Tuesday night to blame green energy sources like wind and solar for the massive failure. But the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages Texas’ independent grid, later clarified that problems with the natural gas supply were largely responsible.
    Newsom, California’s Democratic governor, is facing a well-funded effort by Republicans to recall him from office after he enacted restrictive stay-at-home orders to try to halt the soaring number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in his state — actions that his opponents say crippled small businesses and slowed the state’s economic recovery. While his leadership was widely praised for much of last year, he made himself a target for charges of hypocrisy by attending a November birthday party at a fancy restaurant while he was urging Californians to stay home and avoid gatherings.
    Cuomo’s administration in New York is under scrutiny for the handling of some of the data surrounding Covid-19 deaths in long-term care facilities in New York, weeks after state Attorney General Letitia James revealed that the New York State Department of Health undercounted those deaths by approximately 50%, essentially by leaving out deaths of residents who had been transferred to hospitals.
    The US attorney’s office in Brooklyn and the FBI are now looking into the handling of some of the data, as first reported by the Albany Times Union. It is unclear whether authorities are looking at Cuomo or members of his administration.
    The profile of all three of those governors — and attention to their potential higher ambitions — was heightened over the past year during the pandemic when they were continually in front of the microphones. But that increased exposure has now magnified their missteps and potential pitfalls.
    Douglas Brinkley, a CNN presidential historian who teaches history at Rice University and was still without power in Texas Thursday afternoon, said he was reminded of the old adage that the nail that stands the tallest gets hammered down.
    “When something like Covid-19 hits in those states, it becomes a mad scramble that’s kind of hard to wrap your hands around,” Brinkley said, noting the size and complexity of New York, California and Texas. “It’s just a lot easier governing North Dakota or Arkansas than it is governing one of the big three like that.”
    Brinkley added that the lack of federal planning under four years of Trump’s decentralized approach has created “a feast or famine environment around the country where people have had to go it alone without federal largesse and leadership, and it creates just a massive amount of confusion.”

    Texans demand answers as Abbott promises to fix energy grid problems

    In an effort to repair their statures, all three governors have followed the cornerstone principle of any viable public relations effort by stating that they take responsibility for the problems facing their states.
    Abbott was the latest to take that step during a briefing on the Texas energy grid crisis Thursday afternoon, where he said that power had been restored to the majority of Texans after a week in which more than 4 million customers were without it at one point — and outlined the actions he is taking to ensure the situation “can never be replicated again.”
    Though Democrats have argued that Abbott bears responsibility for failing to make sure Texas’ power grid was prepared for the storm — a criticism that Republicans often leveled at Newsom when California was forced to deal with rolling blackouts during last summer’s heat waves — Abbott put most of the blame on ERCOT, which has operated Texas’ independent power grid since 1970. (The stand-alone nature of ERCOT meant that Texas was unable to borrow power from neighboring states in the midst of the crisis this week.)
    Abbott said he is asking the Texas legislature not only to investigate what happened, but to mandate the winterization of generators and the power system. He angrily noted that a new chair and vice chair were elected to ERCOT’s board from outside of Texas in the weeks prior to the storm — though it was unclear how that would have affected the agency’s long-term planning. He noted that the agency’s annual winter assessment “assured the public that there would be enough power to meet peak demand this winter,” and that turned out to be very wrong.
    When asked if he took responsibility for the crisis, he replied: “I’m taking responsibility for the current status of ERCOT. Again, I find what has happened unacceptable.”
    “Texans deserve answers about why the shortfalls occurred, and how they’re going to be corrected and Texans will get those answers,” Abbott said.
    But his initial instinct to politicize the crisis by misleadingly claiming that the nation’s transition toward renewable energy sources was at the root of the crisis. “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity earlier this week.
    Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Thursday night that it is clear that state agencies, ERCOT and the public utilities commission that oversees ERCOT “got caught completely flat-footed.”
    He faulted Abbott for re-igniting a political debate over renewable energy in the midst of a crisis: “If you look at what happened most of the failure was with the fossil fuel production and delivery. Some of it was from the wind turbines,” Castro said. “But all of it was because the state government never prepared for this kind of weather event.”

    Cuomo faces blowback on multiple fronts

    The revelation that the US attorney’s office in Brooklyn and the FBI are now looking into the handling of some of the data surrounding Covid-19 deaths in long-term care facilities was an ominous political development for Cuomo, because the investigation could shadow him as he positions himself to seek a fourth term.
    The New York governor has come under fire both for his explanation of what happened and his behavior as he tried to mitigate the damage of the data reporting scandal.
    Last week, Cuomo’s top aide Melissa DeRosa admitted in a call with state lawmakers that the administration tried to delay the release of the data on Covid-19 deaths in long-term care facilities, wary of a federal Justice Department preliminary inquiry.
    During a Monday news conference, Cuomo — who had engendered the trust of New Yorkers last year with his sober updates on the Covid-19 crisis — said the data requested by lawmakers about Covid-19 deaths was not provided soon enough, but he insisted the state’s death counts were accurate.
    “To be clear, all the deaths in the nursing homes and in the hospitals were always fully, publicly and accurately reported,” he said.
    Cuomo defended his administration’s delay in releasing data on Covid-19 deaths, explaining that the Department of Health “paused” state lawmakers’ request for Covid-19 death data while his administration was focused on a related inquiry by the Justice Department. The delay in responding to information requests, he said, created “a void” that has allowed conspiracy theories to flourish.
    “The void we created by not providing information was filled with skepticism and cynicism and conspiracy theories which furthered the confusion,” he said.
    “No excuses. We should not have created the void,” he said. “We should have done a better job in providing information. We should have done a better job of knocking down the disinformation. … I accept responsibility for that.”

    Newsom focuses on accelerating pace of vaccinations

    Newsom, who apologized profusely to Californians for going to the birthday party last year by pledging to “preach and practice, not just preach,” has tried to steady his political position in California by focusing on virus mitigation efforts while largely shrugging off the threat of a recall. After lifting the stay-at-home orders, he has focused on improving the rollout of vaccinations in California, which got off to a shaky start.
    He has spent his recent days visiting vaccination sites in Los Angeles, Fresno, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Clara to highlight the state’s improving pace in administering more than 6 million doses of the vaccine.
    On Tuesday, he appeared at the opening of one of the first community vaccination sites in the country in Los Angeles, which was created in partnership with FEMA and the Biden administration. He once again brushed off questions related to the recall by stating that he understands Californians’ frustrations with the havoc that the pandemic has wrought and that he is doing everything he can to help his state get back to normalcy.
      “It’s been a difficult and challenging year for all of us,” Newsom said in Los Angeles, pointing to the downward slope of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in a state that has been among the hardest hit by the virus. “But the fact is, at scale, we are moving in the right direction, including in terms of the administration and doses of vaccine, in terms of getting people back to work, and putting our kids back to school. So those are objective, empirical truths.”
      Voters in all three states will be looking for empirical truths as they judge how their leaders fared in these crises, and all three governors will be called to answer for them at the ballot box.

      Politics

      Biden to take first limited steps on gun control, including on ‘ghost guns’ and pistol braces

      Published

      on

      By Kevin Liptak, CNN
      Updated 10:57 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

      (CNN) — President Joe Biden will take his first, limited actions on gun control Thursday, directing his administration to tighten restrictions on so-called ghost guns and pistol stabilizing braces that allow the weapons to be used more accurately, according to a senior administration official.

      The steps — which also include nominating a gun control advocate to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — fulfill a commitment Biden made in the aftermath of two deadly shootings last month to take “common sense” steps right away to address gun violence.
      But they fall short of the sweeping actions Biden promised as a candidate that must be passed by Congress, including a ban on assault weapons or enacting universal background checks. Senior administration officials framed the upcoming announcements as initial steps that would be followed by additional actions later on, including applying pressure on lawmakers to act.
        Biden said last month following a mass shooting in Colorado, “I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common sense steps that will save lives in the future.” But he has acknowledged that passing a massive new infrastructure plan — and not new gun laws — is his top legislative priority.
          Biden will make the announcements Thursday from the White House alongside his attorney general, Merrick Garland, whose Justice Department will be responsible for drafting the proposed rules.
              The announcements will come as the President is expected to nominate David Chipman as the next director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a White House official told CNN. Chipman is a former ATF agent who serves as senior policy adviser at Giffords, the organization led by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who became a gun control advocate after being shot in 2011.
              The ATF has been without a permanent director since 2015.
              Biden also plans to announce new investments in intervention programs in violence-prone communities; a directive to the Justice Department to publish model “red flag” laws for states that allow the temporary removal of guns from people deemed at high risk of harming themselves or others; and a comprehensive report on firearms trafficking.
              Taken together, the actions amount to the first real steps by Biden’s administration to combat gun violence. Inside the White House, efforts to devise executive actions have been led by White House Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice and Office of Public Engagement Director Cedric Richmond, administration officials and gun safety advocacy groups told CNN.
              That included meeting with some of those groups and fielding ideas for steps that Biden could take on his own. Some advocates had been clamoring for steps earlier in the administration, pointing to Biden’s pledge to prioritize gun control during his campaign.
              But initial reaction from gun safety advocacy groups Wednesday evening was positive.
              “Each of these executive actions will start to address the epidemic of gun violence that has raged throughout the pandemic, and begin to make good on President Biden’s promise to be the strongest gun safety president in history,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement.
              “These much-needed executive actions will start saving lives right away, and our grassroots army of nearly 6 million supporters looks forward to standing behind President Biden as he urges the Senate to follow his lead and act,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement.
              While campaigning, Biden had said he would task his attorney general with instituting better enforcement of existing gun laws as a means of slowing gun violence. He also made a campaign pledge to send $900 million for community programs meant to combat violence, something the administration is sorting out how to fulfill.
              Following last month’s shootings, Biden called on Congress to take steps like reenacting an assault weapons ban, with Vice President Kamala Harris, who argued for executive actions on the campaign trail, telling “CBS This Morning” that “if we really want something that is going to be lasting, we need to pass legislation.”
              The Democratic-controlled House passed gun legislation that would expand background checks on all commercial gun sales last month, but the bills face tougher paths in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim 50-50 majority and would need significant Republican support to overcome a legislative filibuster.
              Biden acknowledged during a news conference that his main legislative priority was passing an infrastructure package and that he believed careful timing was key to the success of any proposed bills.
              And he has acknowledged that his political capital is limited.
              “I haven’t done any counting yet,” he said in March when asked whether he believed he had enough votes to pass significant reforms.
              As the nation’s posture on guns has evolved, Biden has been front-and-center at most every stop along the way for more than three decades, from the triumph of a 10-year ban on assault weapons in 1994 to the disappointment of a failed push for universal background checks in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.
                Recent shootings in Georgia and Colorado had raised the question inside the West Wing over how much political capital Biden should expend on the matter, which has so often ended in frustration.
                This story has been updated with details about Biden’s executive actions and reaction to them.

                Continue Reading

                Politics

                Virginia lawmakers OK marijuana possession starting July 1

                Published

                on

                By Paul LeBlanc and Kay Jones, CNN
                Updated 9:45 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

                (CNN) — The Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday passed a bill legalizing simple possession of marijuana, becoming the latest state to modify its laws around cannabis use and possession that disproportionately jailed Black people for nonviolent offenses.

                The new law, which goes into effect July 1, allows anyone in the state 21 or older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana. The law also “modifies several other criminal penalties related to marijuana, and imposes limits on dissemination of criminal history record information related to certain marijuana offenses,” according to a summary posted to the Legislature’s website.
                “Virginia led and made history once again today,” Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who cast the tie-breaking vote in the state Senate, said in a tweet.
                  “I was proud to cast the tie-breaking vote to legalize marijuana and bring long overdue justice, fairness, equity and opportunity to the people of our great Commonwealth.”
                    The bill had originally passed in late February, but Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam sent it back to the Legislature with a series of revisions, including a proposal to accelerate the timeline of its enactment to this July instead of 2024.
                        Still, the measure was met with fierce opposition from state GOP lawmakers Wednesday, including Del. Chris Head, who called it a “train wreck” during a virtual House floor speech.
                        “If this policy change is to be undertaken, it has to be undertaken prudently, and I understand the enormous pressure on the majority party to make this change right now. I understand that opposing immediate legislation and legalization is going to anger many of your constituents. And I understand that taking the time to do this right might possibly even lead to charges of racism,” he said.
                        “But we have to do this right. And doing it right takes time.”
                        Legalization advocates have long touted the righting of past criminal justice wrongs, eliminating illegal market activity and generating additional tax revenue when they’ve pushed for overhauling state cannabis laws.
                        “At the end of the day, economics talk and jobs talk,” Jessica Billingsley, chief executive officer of Akerna, which makes regulatory compliance software that helps states track cannabis sales from seed to sale, previously told CNN.
                          “I truly believe we’re going to see some very meaningful and important movement coming out of this as states and governors look for a way to bolster their economy.”
                          Cannabis sales in states that have legalized the plant for medical and recreational purposes totaled about $15 billion in 2019, and are expected to top $30 billion by 2024, according to data from BDS Analytics, which tracks dispensary sales.

                          Continue Reading

                          Politics

                          Biden’s planned pick for ATF director a fierce advocate for gun control

                          Published

                          on

                          By Paul LeBlanc, CNN
                          Updated 9:30 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

                          Washington (CNN) — David Chipman, President Joe Biden’s planned nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has a long history at the agency and sports credentials in gun control advocacy sure to excite firearm safety groups.

                          If confirmed, Chipman will lead the agency that enforces gun laws at a critical point in Biden’s early tenure, as the President looks to take fresh action on the issue in the wake of two deadly shootings last month.
                          “I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common-sense steps that will save lives in the future,” Biden said last month. The President plans to announce new executive actions on guns Thursday, a person familiar with the plans said.

                            Longtime ATF special agent

                              Chipman, if confirmed, would return to the agency where he worked for 25 years as a special agent.
                                He lists “Violent Crime Reduction Strategist,” “Certified Explosives Specialist” and “Interagency Liason Specialist” among his specialties on his Linkedin profile, and Giffords notes his expertise includes ghost guns, the gun industry, law enforcement and assault weapons.
                                In the President’s first, limited actions on gun control Thursday, Biden will direct his administration to tighten restrictions on so-called ghost guns and pistol stabilizing braces that allow the weapons to be used more accurately, according to a senior administration official. Ghost guns are handmade or self-assembled firearms that don’t have serial numbers, and some can be fabricated in as little as 30 minutes using kits and parts purchased online.
                                The ATF has been without a permanent director since 2015.
                                In recent years, the bureau has become most visible in the aftermath of mass shootings around the US and at other crimes involving firearms. But the agency has a broader scope than just guns.
                                According to its website, ATF “protects our communities from violent criminals, criminal organizations, the illegal use and trafficking of firearms, the illegal use and storage of explosives, acts of arson and bombings, acts of terrorism, and the illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products.”
                                “We partner with communities, industries, law enforcement, and public safety agencies to safeguard the public we serve through information sharing, training, research, and use of technology,” the bureau’s website states.

                                Gun control advocacy

                                After leaving the ATF in 2012, Chipman became a senior adviser at Everytown for Gun Safety, where he was “consulted frequently” by lawmakers considering gun control legislation, according to his Linkedin.
                                Chipman then served as senior vice president of Public Safety Solutions for almost three years before arriving at Giffords as a senior policy adviser in 2016.
                                It’s in these roles that Chipman’s voice as a fierce advocate for gun control was elevated, as he frequently wrote op-eds and made media appearances to advance the cause.
                                “As a former ATF special agent with more than 24 years of experience at the bureau, I know all too well how serious our gun violence problem is and how desperately the agency lacks for the law enforcement tools that are necessary to help curb this national epidemic,” Chipman wrote in a 2013 Politico op-ed.
                                The country’s gun safety laws, he wrote at the time, “make it all too easy for guns to fall into the wrong hands — and since Congress has failed to address these gaps legislatively, ATF must chart a new course to combat the scourge of gun violence. This requires strong leadership.”
                                More recently, Chipman voiced support for limiting high-capacity magazines in a 2019 interview with PBS NewsHour.
                                “Talking to any gun owner, a 100-round magazine is just not traditional. It’s not normal. And I can’t think of a purpose, beyond killing a lot of people, for having it,” he said. “So if the debate is, should it be 10 or what have you, it can’t be 100. And so I think there’s room where we can have progress, although we will not have perfection.”
                                  And in light of FBI records last summer showing US firearm background checks having skyrocketed during the Covid-19 pandemic, Chipman told CNN at the time: “My biggest concern involves the potential number of first time gun buyers who, before March, did not think they needed a gun.”
                                  This story has been updated with additional details Wednesday.

                                  Continue Reading

                                  Politics

                                  Andrew Giuliani, former Trump aide and son of Rudy Giuliani, says he plans for to run for governor of New York

                                  Published

                                  on

                                  By Devan Cole, CNN
                                  Updated 12:16 PM ET, Wed April 7, 2021

                                  Washington (CNN) — Andrew Giuliani, the son of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, says he’s planning to run for governor of the heavily Democratic state next year.

                                  “I plan to run,” Andrew Giuliani, who served as an aide to former President Donald Trump, told the Washington Examiner in an interview published Wednesday.
                                  Giuliani’s gubernatorial bid could set up a high stakes, headline-grabbing showdown with Andrew Cuomo, should the embattled incumbent Democratic governor decide to seek a fourth term. But Giuliani would face a steep uphill battle in the heavily Democratic state, and his candidacy could help hand another win to the party as his proximity to Trump would likely be seen as a liability in a state where the former President is widely unpopular.
                                    “I believe I can win the race,” Giuliani told the Examiner. “I think I’m the right candidate, and this is the right time to help change New York State, and we’ve got a playbook that works.”
                                      “Outside of anybody named Trump, I think I have the best chance to win and take the state back, and I think there’s an opportunity in 2022 with a wounded Democratic candidate, whether it’s going to be Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo, whether it’s going to be a radical (attorney general), Letitia James, whether it’s going to be a no-name lieutenant governor, I think there’s a very, very real chance to win,” he said, according to the magazine.
                                            Asked if he expected Cuomo to seek reelection to a fourth term next year, Jay Jacobs, the state party chair and a close ally of the governor, demurred.
                                            “I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. I think that he’s more focused on getting through his current troubles, then seeing where he’s going to go,” he said. “These investigations are going to be critical in all of that. It’s hard to tell. I’m sure that, given his druthers, he’d like to run for reelection.”

                                            Continue Reading

                                            Politics

                                            Stephen Breyer worries about Supreme Court’s public standing in current political era

                                            Published

                                            on

                                            By Joan Biskupic, CNN legal analyst & Supreme Court biographer
                                            Updated 9:07 PM ET, Tue April 6, 2021

                                            (CNN) — Justice Stephen Breyer, who may be nearing the end of his Supreme Court tenure, expressed concern on Tuesday about the standing of the high court and the possible erosion of public confidence in its decisions.

                                            In an expansive, two-hour lecture at Harvard Law School, Breyer bemoaned the common practice — by journalists, senators and others — of referring to justices by the presidents who appointed them and of describing the nine by their conservative or liberal approach to the law.
                                            “These are more than straws in the wind,” the 82-year-old Breyer said. “They reinforce the thought, likely already present in the reader’s mind, that Supreme Court justices are primarily political officials or ‘junior league’ politicians themselves rather than jurists. The justices tend to believe that differences among judges mostly reflect not politics but jurisprudential differences. That is not what the public thinks.”
                                              Breyer also warned against proposals to expand the size of the Supreme Court from its current nine members. Public trust was “gradually built” over the centuries, he said, and any discussion of change should take account of today’s public acceptance of the court’s rulings, even those as controversial as the 2000 Bush v. Gore case that settled a presidential election.
                                                “The public now expects presidents to accept decisions of the court, including those that are politically controversial,” he said. “The court has become able to impose a significant check — a legal check — upon the Executive’s actions in cases where the Executive strongly believes it is right.”
                                                  Some of Breyer’s most compelling opinions, it should be noted, have been written in dissent. In 2007, for example, he objected to an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts rejecting school integration plans in Seattle and Louisville. Roberts said districts could not consider a student’s race when making school assignments to reduce racial isolation throughout the school district.
                                                  “This is a decision that the Court and the Nation will come to regret,” wrote Breyer, whose father, Irving Breyer, was a long-serving school board member in San Francisco. Breyer still wears the wristwatch his father received upon his retirement from the district. Breyer said the Roberts opinion threatened “the promise of” the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.
                                                  Breyer said Tuesday that differences with his colleagues were based on their distinct views of the structure of the Constitution or how they interpreted statutes. He did not refer to instances in which his colleagues themselves have publicly questioned each other’s motives.
                                                    Breyer did allow that sometimes justices weigh public opinion or the future ramifications of a decision. And he acknowledged that the nine are products of their individual backgrounds and experiences.
                                                    Still, he said, “judicial philosophy is not a code word for ‘politics.'”

                                                    Continue Reading

                                                    Trending