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BuzzFeed, Reporting To You

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    Joe Raedle / Getty Images

    MESA, Ariz. — At 7 a.m. last Thursday, Tom Perez found himself sprinting through Reagan National Airport, dripping sweat, with no ticket in hand, determined to plead his case to a skeptical flight agent, re-open the boarding door, and take his seat.

    Earlier that morning, around 5 a.m., a Lyft driver's flat tire had derailed his plan to fly from Baltimore to Salt Lake City, where he was due to rejoin Bernie Sanders for the final stretch of their week-long "Come Together and Fight Back" tour — an early effort by Perez as the new chair of the Democratic National Committee to bridge a divided party and bring alienated progressives back into the fold of institutional politics.

    So he made his way home to Takoma Park, got in his car, and re-routed to Reagan National for a 7:15 a.m. nonstop. "I don’t even remember where I parked," he laughed. At 6:50 a.m., "I'm at the counter with no ticket. And the guy looks at me like, 'You gotta be fuckin’ kidding me.'" Perez booked a later flight instead, but ran through security, heading for the 7:15 a.m. gate. "I see the guy literally about to close the door, and I’m like, 'Yo! Sir! Can you help me!" He’s looking at me like, 'You got a ticket for this?'" (No.) "So I walk a short distance away. I’m figuring out my plan B, watching the plane." A few minutes later, a delay was announced. Perez flashed what he called a "puppy-dog look" back at the gate. The agent relented: "OK," he motioned, "come over here."

    In Perez's telling, it wasn't too different from most days on the job as chair.

    "I’ve always felt that you get more bees with honey than with vinegar," he said later that night from the backseat of a darkened suburban, rolling from an evening rally outside Phoenix to the airport, where a chartered plane would be waiting with Sanders.

    The mantra extends to his approach when it comes to the liberal activists who attended the party’s week of “unity”-themed rallies to cheer on Sanders and, in several instances, to boo Perez and the DNC, drawing national headlines questioning the tour’s success.

    Perez, the 55-year-old former civil rights lawyer and labor secretary, is now two months into the job. The DNC, a relatively powerless Washington institution when it comes to the task of running races across the country, has nevertheless become a major source of dissatisfaction among voters on the left. During the 2016 Democratic primary, hacked internal emails showed the DNC unfairly favored Hillary Clinton over Sanders. And earlier this year, the 15-week chair's race between Perez and the progressive candidate of choice, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, now DNC deputy chair, came to embody the running tension inside the party between establishment power and grassroots activism.

    The same signs of strain spilled out into the public as Perez and Sanders traveled together to rallies from Florida and Utah to Arizona and Nevada. At one event in Maine, the crowd followed a round of "Bernie!" chants with a wave of boos when an introductory speaker mentioned "the new DNC chairman and the future of the Democratic Party." At another in Las Vegas, staffers paced the room on watch for protesters, escorting one with a "No Super Delegates Or STFU" sign to the back of the University of Nevada arena.

    Perez both shrugs off the incidents and also insists they're part of the point. "For every booer," he said, there are hundreds more "who want the party to succeed, have frustrations, and want to make sure that somebody is listening to them."

    "And that’s what I’m trying to do — and that’s why I haven’t seen my family very much lately, and that’s why I almost missed a flight this morning."

    The job of party chair, Democratic or Republican, can be thankless. But as Perez sees it, his primary role in these first six months is simply to listen — to “of course” let people vent, he said, even boo if they want. "I want to hear directly the frustrations of people who feel the party hasn’t met their expectations.” So far, Perez has heard a lot of that: the black voters from Flint, Michigan, who told him, "You guys take us for granted"; the steelworker from a family of Democrats who said, "I don’t know who to trust."

    The party's most pressing problem, Perez said, is "we lose the battle of the bumper sticker." In his estimation, President Trump is leagues ahead. Take the steelworker: When "Trump says I’m gonna bring your coal jobs back," Perez argued, "he knows that’s bullshit, but at least Donald Trump is speaking to his fears. And he knows that his dad was a Democrat, and he was a Democrat, but he’s not sure why anymore."

    Despite the negative reviews of the "Come Together and Fight Back" tour, "for me,” said Perez, it was "a great trip” — in part, he added, because of the week on the road with Sanders. The two didn’t know one another well before the tour. Some flights were quiet, aides said, with Sanders reading his iPad and eating peanuts. On others, the two spent hours talking about Perez’s kids, Sanders’ grandkids — and about policy. (On one westward stretch, a staffer said, Sanders pointed in outrage at the empty desert below, asking how there could be so much sun and land and not a single solar panel.)

    Asked what Sanders is like, Perez had a simple reply: “He is passionate.”

    A protester outside the Perez-Sanders event in Salt Lake City.

    George Frey / Getty Images

    The 75-year-old Vermont independent, drawing fans to the DNC rallies with “Bernie 2020” signs and “Join the Revolution” t-shirts, has maintained if not grown his influence and celebrity status in the months since last year’s presidential race. At one point on the the tour, a woman ran up to Sanders in an airport and broke into tears. Perez, by comparison, said it is “an absolute surprise to me” every time he’s even recognized.

    To critics who ask, “well, why do you spend time with a person who’s not a Democrat,” Perez volunteered in the back of the SUV, “Well, the answer is, if we’re gonna take back this nation, we need to get everyone who shares our values working together.”

    If Perez does admit to having frustrations, they're with the press.

    "I had a chat with a reporter they other day who acknowledged — you had 2,500 people there and maybe half a dozen people booing," he said. "I'll just note, there’s empirically a very interesting distinction between local reporting and you national folks. Because local reporters actually report the totality. And the national folks — no offense — tend to like to write about the six people. They don’t like to write about the dozen standing ovations and applause lines and things like that. But I digress."

    “Making house calls” is the line you hear Perez use most — in interviews, at rallies, multiple times in each of the eight candidate forums during the DNC chair's race. “Something I hear when I make house calls is ‘I need to know what the Democratic Party stands for,” he said as the suburban coursed its way to Sky Harbor International.

    Perez is a spirited campaigner, sometimes yelling point-blank into the microphone, but he is not a natural one. He's never held statewide office, and although he was vetted by Clinton during her search last year for vice presidential nominee, he did not secure one of the top spots alongside Democrats such as Tim Kaine, Cory Booker, and Tom Vilsack.

    His bid for DNC chair was based largely on his record as Barack Obama's labor secretary, which he cast as an internal "turnaround job," helping to remedy the culture at a federal agency that used to rate second from the bottom in employee satisfaction, he said.

    "What I’m doing now is no different than what I’ve done in every one of the three or four leadership jobs I’ve had. My first six months has always been about getting out there and listening — understanding what people’s concerns are, what people’s hopes are — and building an organization and a plan that responds to that."

    For now, his plan includes house calls — and building coalitions between the DNC and other left-leaning institutions like Democracy for America, the Working Families Party, and the grassroots organizers leading protests against Trump across the country.

    Before his rally on Thursday in Arizona, Perez met with leaders from the network of activists known as Indivisible (some "very eclectic" folks). They invited the DNC to participate in a training this June — "and my instruction to my team was make sure we’re a conspicuous part of it.” ("Not taking it over," he added. Just being "partners.")

    As the SUV pulled onto the tarmac, Perez made his final point. Up ahead, Sanders was already on the plane, reading his iPad, face framed in the yellow light of a window.

    A successful chair of the DNC, Perez said, needs five things: "listening," "consistent house calls," "thick skin," "humility," and "always making clear to folks that I can handle the truth." Over the last two months, that's what he's picked up in conversations with other Democrats about the job now ahead of him, including Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton ("She cares deeply about the party"), and former DNC chairs like Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

    The one piece of advice he always gets?

    "You’re never gonna please everyone. And I’ve learned that very fast.”


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    Fox News is reeling from the Bill O’Reilly sexual harassment scandal. The company faces lawsuits alleging racial and gender discrimination. Former chief Roger Ailes was ousted months ago in a sexual harassment saga that still hangs over the network.

    It’s the kind of week — the first in the post-O’Reilly primetime lineup — where a male Fox News host might want to avoid making what was widely interpreted as a sexualized comment about the president’s daughter.

    Enter Jesse Watters, co-host of The Five, which this week assumed the 9 p.m. slot on Fox after Tucker Carlson moved to O’Reilly’s 8 p.m. hour. After a clip of Ivanka Trump making remarks during a recent trip to Germany, Watters on Tuesday night said with a grin, while making a quick hand gesture, that he “really liked how she was speaking into the microphone.”

    The moment went viral after being tweeted by journalist Yashar Ali.

    Watters’ comment prompted swift backlash across Twitter, but he defended himself. “During the break we were commenting on Ivanka's voice and how it was low and steady and resonates like a smooth jazz radio DJ. This was in no way a joke about anything else,” Watters said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.

    Some are not buying Watters’ explanation.

    “So much of the sexual harassment at Fox News is hiding in plain sight, on air. This overt sexualization of Ivanka Trump — while she is talking about women's empowerment! — is a perfect example of the toxic culture at Fox News,” Lisa Bloom, an attorney who is representing O’Reilly accusers, told BuzzFeed News. “They don't get it. They still don't get it. And so they have to be forced to get it through litigation and public shaming.”

    Ivanka Trump at the W20 conference in Berlin on Wednesday.

    Sean Gallup / Getty Images

    For his part, Watters has been on a fast rise within Fox News recently. A protege of O’Reilly, he has been known for his ambush interviews and frequent segments on The O’Reilly Factor, where he would conduct man-on-the-street interviews poking fun at his subjects.

    The segment has not been without controversy. One “Watters World” clip last year was criticized as a racist for mocking Asian-Americans. Still, Watters’ profile has risen at the network, evident by his recent climb to primetime. Watters also recently scored an interview with President Trump, who has subsequently followed Watters on Twitter.

    But Watters’ Ivanka remark comes as Fox News’s workplace culture comes under sharp scrutiny during a particularly tumultuous time at the network, which continues to dominate the cable news landscape. Earlier this month, the once invincible O’Reilly was forced out amid an advertiser boycott sparked by a New York Times report detailing harassment allegations and $13 million in settlement payments. O’Reilly has denied the allegations. That controversy was reminiscent of Ailes’ ouster last summer amid his own spate of sexual harassment allegations (which he has also denied).

    More allegations are still coming forward. On CNN’s Reliable Sources over the weekend, former Fox News and current CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota said that Ailes sexually harassed her. An attorney for Ailes denied the claims.

    With Ailes and O’Reilly out, and the controlling Murdoch family taking a more hands-on approach with the network, the spotlight has now moved to other current senior executives and the extent to which they may have engendered a pernicious workplace environment.

    The network is facing more lawsuits that paint a misogynist and racist working environment. On Tuesday, Fox News anchor and reporter Kelly Wright joined 12 other current former employees in a lawsuit against Fox News alleging racial discrimination that was ignored by senior executives. In the suit, Wright claims that senior network executive Bill Shine focused on his skin color and would ask how Wright thought white viewers looked at him.

    Shine is also mentioned in another suit brought by on-air contributor Julie Roginsky, which alleged gender discrimination against Ailes. Shine, according to the complaint, knew of Ailes’s behavior but did nothing.

    Fox News has said that it denies the claims in the various lawsuits. “Fox News and [Fox’s executive vice president for business and legal affairs] Dianne Brandi vehemently deny the race discrimination claims in both lawsuits. They are copycat complaints of the original one filed last month. We will vigorously defend these cases," Fox said in a statement.

    Meanwhile, government lawyers are probing whether Fox News allegedly misled investors by hiding financial settlements with former employees. The Financial Times reported that former Fox News Chief Financial Officer Mark Kranz has been offered immunity from prosecution from government lawyers looking into the matter.


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    Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

    Eric Gay / AP

    On Wednesday, Texas followed through on a promise to sue the federal government in an attempt to obtain lethal injection drugs the Food and Drug Administration maintains are illegal.

    The Wednesday court filing sets up the unusual scenario of Texas suing the Trump administration for hindering the death penalty — a new complaint in a lawsuit originally brought against the Obama administration.

    Texas, Arizona and Nebraska each purchased 1,000 vials of execution drugs from a man in India in 2015. Last week, the FDA formally denied the shipments, ruling that it's illegal to import the drug.

    On Wednesday, the state filed an amended complaint in federal court, alleging that the FDA is harming the state by blocking the drugs.

    "TDCJ has previously purchased and used thiopental sodium in numerous executions before" the sole FDA-approved supplier stopped making the drug, the state's lawyers wrote. "Through the import at issue in this case, TDCJ is attempting once again to utilize thiopental sodium for purposes of imposing lawful capital sentences."

    The FDA blocking the shipments "directly harms TDCJ by preventing TDCJ from having the option of using the drugs at issue in lawful executions," the lawyers wrote. "This harm will continue unless and until the Court" forces the FDA to allow the drugs into the country.

    In addition to state government lawyers from Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, the state has hired outside lawyers from the law firm Alston & Bird to help represent the state. Wednesday’s filing was signed by Daniel G. Jarcho, a partner in the firm’s DC office who used to represent the FDA when he worked for the Justice Department.

    Last week, the FDA sent Texas and Arizona a 26-page letter denying the drugs, arguing that they are unapproved, mislabeled, and that the government is legally bound by a 2012 court order issued by the federal district court in DC that prohibits them from allowing thiopental into the country.

    In Texas' complaint filed Wednesday, the state makes no mention of the 2012 court order, which was upheld by a federal appeals court in DC, although it does note that the FDA's position on thiopental changed that year. Instead, the state focuses on arguing that it is exempt from the FDA's requirements because the drugs would be used for "law enforcement."

    The state points to a statute that exempts drugs “shipped or sold to . . . persons . . . engaged in law enforcement, . . . and [are] to be used only for such . . . law enforcement.”

    "Use of thiopental sodium to administer lawfully-imposed capital sentences through lethal injection is a use of the drug for law enforcement purposes," the state argues. "TDCJ is a state agency that is regularly and lawfully engaged in law enforcement."

    The FDA declined to comment on the case. But in the letter the agency sent last week, the federal government wrote that the law enforcement exemption does not apply when the drugs are to be used on humans. The FDA also pointed out that the exemption was written before lethal injection was created.

    "As an initial matter," the FDA noted, "the law enforcement exemption could not have been intended to apply to lethal injection, because FDA issued the regulation adding the exemption ... in 1956, well before any State used lethal injection as a method of execution."

    Texas is asking the court to force the FDA to allow the drugs in, and to prohibit the FDA from detaining any future shipments of execution drugs it buys. Judge George Hanks set a telephone hearing for Thursday to discuss the status of the case.

    In its complaint, Texas does not name the supplier of the drugs at issue, referring to it only as a "foreign distributor."

    In 2015, Texas first planned on buying sodium thiopental from a small company in India, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News. That sale, however, fell through when the would-be supplier was raided by India's Narcotics Control Bureau, its employees arrested, its drugs seized, and its facility shut down. Indian law enforcement seized a massive amount of generic versions of Xanax, Ritalin, Ambien, Viagra, and various opioids.

    When that deal fell through, Texas instead turned to a man in India named Chris Harris. Harris sold 3,000 vials of sodium thiopental to Texas, Arizona, and Nebraska for more than $75,000 — promising that there would be no legal problems with the sale.

    Before the drugs were shipped, the FDA and DEA warned the states and Harris that the sale would be illegal and that the government would have to stop the shipment. The states bought the drugs anyway.

    In its court filing Wednesday, Texas lamented that the FDA was harming its reputation by stopping the shipment.

    By ruling the drugs illegal, "FDA has formally decided that TDCJ — a law
    enforcement agency — has attempted to import drugs in violation of federal law," the lawyers wrote. "The refusal order has caused, and is substantially likely to continue to cause, adverse publicity that has and will injure TDCJ’s reputation by asserting that TDCJ has attempted to import drugs in violation of federal law."

    Read the full complaint:


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    Mark Wilson / Getty Images

    MANCHESTER, N.H. — Is John Kasich still a Republican?

    The Ohio governor and mainstay of the party’s mainstream is out this week with a book that at times reads like an angry breakup letter.

    “Oh yeah, I’m a Repub… ,” Kasich trailed off, conspicuously unable to finish the word in his rapid-fire stream of consciousness from the front seat of a big SUV barreling toward New Hampshire on Wednesday night. Kasich finished second in the state’s hugely important presidential primary last year. That was enough to make it one of the few high points of his campaign and, also conspicuously, one of the first book-signing stops on his national tour.

    “I’m pro-environment, I’m pro-trade, I’m anti-debt, I’m pro-immigration, I’m pro-NATO,” Kasich continued. “And when I look at the party, I see it moving in a different direction. But I’ve always said I have the right to define what it means to be a Republican and a conservative.”

    At a time when he clearly wants to remain a player on the national stage, Kasich is struggling with his political identity — and so is his party. If and where he fits in a GOP led by Donald Trump will say a great deal about the kind of Republicans who can succeed in it, and whether there’s still space for the open and internationalist values Kasich and other Republicans long have cherished.

    Twice Wednesday — once during a forum at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and later in the SUV — Kasich said the day is coming when a well-funded independent can win the White House.

    “Both parties, I think, are missing it,” Kasich said. “That’s why I said tonight, and I’ll say again in this car, that I think they’re going to matter less and less unless they get their act together.”

    The big story of Kasich’s big media week isn’t the predictable swipes he takes at President Trump in the book. And it’s not that he is refusing to rule out a Republican primary challenge to Trump in 2020, though his visit here Thursday raises such speculation.

    It’s that Kasich seems tempted by the idea of running for president as an independent.

    The signs are there in Two Paths: America Divided or United, which recycles its title from an anti-Trump speech Kasich gave last year toward the end of his bid for the GOP nomination. The most consistent theme in the book, though, is not Kasich’s disapproval of the new president but his disappointment with fellow Republicans who supported Trump’s candidacy.

    “What I found surprising was the way all these other Republican presidential candidates took turns shedding what I could only imagine were their own deeply held convictions and setting aside their very public differences with their party’s presumptive nominee — some of them even angling for positions in a possible Trump administration,” Kasich writes.

    Kasich adds a few pages later: “Why didn’t I endorse Donald Trump simply for the good of the Republican Party? Well, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, sometimes your party asks too much of you. I am an American before I am a member of the Republican Party.”

    Not everyone is convinced that Kasich’s words signal a 2020 independent run: “No, I don’t see that,” Kasich strategist John Weaver told BuzzFeed News. “It’s a clarion call to fix your houses before someone else comes and does it for you in a more dramatic fashion.”

    Other Kasich aides acknowledge the governor sounds like he is threading a needle.

    It wasn’t long ago that Kasich had big ideas about reshaping his party nationally. On the night of his 2014 reelection as governor — a blowout that saw him win even in heavily Democratic Cuyahoga County, where his opponent was a sitting officeholder — Kasich spoke of a mandate for a “new Republican Party.” He had won despite infuriating conservative purists with his expansion of Medicaid, and he earned the begrudging respect of open-minded Democrats.

    Kasich believed this gave him a good story to tell in 2016, when Republicans were expected to rebrand and rebound with one of several establishment-friendly governors at their disposal.

    He — and, to be fair, many others — misread the political climate. But during the hour-long drive Wednesday night from Harvard to Manchester, Kasich insisted that he maintains influence within the party, citing health care and the environment as two issues where he has moved the debate.

    Kasich when he dropped out last year.

    J.d. Pooley / Getty Images

    Kasich also is enjoying the attention his book is getting — attention that was elusive during his campaign last year. At one point during the ride into the Granite State he wagered that he is Ohio’s biggest political celebrity since the late John Glenn, the former astronaut and senator who stumbled in a presidential bid of his own.

    During his two-day swing through New England, Kasich encountered friendly audiences, posed for dozens of photos, and saw copies of his book sell out on site before his speech Thursday at Saint Anselm College near Manchester. During the speech, he jokingly pouted that he was not included among the school’s vast collection of photos of past presidential candidates who descended on New Hampshire.

    At least one prominent Republican is in Kasich’s corner: Arnold Schwarzenegger. The action movie star and former California governor, who has been mentioned as a possible independent Senate candidate, has encouraged Kasich to run for president again in 2020.

    “Kasich is an extraordinary guy,” Schwarzenegger told the Los Angeles Times this month. “He’s worked in Washington, he’s worked in local government, he’s worked in statewide government. He has the experience. He can see things. He has vision. He’s also a moderate. He’s a tough Republican and very fiscally conservative, but he also at the same time loves helping people.”

    Other leading Republicans are less charitable. And even some who dislike Trump harbor some resentment toward Kasich, who they believe siphoned votes last year from stronger primary candidates who might have been able to wrestle the nomination from him.

    “Kasich's moderate brand is out of sync with where the Republican Party is right now,” one GOP strategist who has worked on presidential campaigns told BuzzFeed News. “That could change depending on how Trump's presidency goes. But as of today, Kasich does not have an obvious role in the party. As for forging an independent coalition, I don't see much of an appetite for that. All of the political energy in America right now is with the extremes. This is a lonely time to be in the middle."

    A lonely time, maybe. But 2020 also is probably Kasich’s last chance to be president.

    He turns 65 next month and is term-limited as governor. He’s run two races for president and it sounds like a third is the only future campaign he’d contemplate. Some Republicans back home in Ohio would like to see him challenge Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2018, but Kasich repeatedly has ruled out the race. “Below zero interest in that!” he said Wednesday night.

    As for the White House, “I got pretty close to a Shermanesque statement, and then I realized that’s not where I need to be, and it’s silly for me to say,” Kasich said, referring to Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous refusal to run for president.

    “I would only consider doing anything like that if I felt such a strong duty.”

    Polls show that Trump remains popular among Republican voters. If that holds, a primary challenge would be a fool’s errand. And Trump’s chances of winning a second term would be higher if Democrats, hampered by intramural squabbles of their own, remain fractured — unless someone can consolidate support from voters fed up with both parties. And, as the GOP strategist notes, Kasich might not be the candidate best equipped to do that.

    But Kasich’s book and remarks on his media tour suggest he is exploring ways to market himself to those who embrace Trump’s politics, but not his tone. Kasich calls himself a “positive populist.” (Trump is a “negative populist.”) He’s also railing against legislative gerrymandering and bemoaning a culture of “followship” in which news consumers only seek out opinions that match their own. These are views shared by many Democrats, including former President Obama, who touched on both this week in his first public appearance since leaving the White House.

    “What’s wrong with that? We’re both looking at the country and drawing some of the same conclusions,” Kasich said Wednesday when told of the similarities between him and Obama. “That doesn’t bother me. In fact, I think it’s really interesting point of discussion.”

    Kasich might have the message. The mechanics are a different story. An independent bid, with the right planning and financing, could be feasible. It’s not clear Kasich would have that.

    Weaver and several other advisers recently launched Two Paths America, a political nonprofit that can raise unlimited amounts of money to promote Kasich’s political interests. But Kasich wasn’t a prolific fundraiser last year.

    Speaking with reporters Thursday at Saint Anselm, he talked of an independent campaign in the abstract and noted the past campaigns of Ross Perot and the past flirtations by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Both are billionaire businessmen. Kasich is not — and he doesn’t exactly have a bunch of them beating down his door to run for president.

    “What I am going to try to do is to continue to raise money to support the operation that I have that allows me to be … out on the public stage,” Kasich said Wednesday. “Where that’s going to go, I have no idea.”

    Sam Nunberg, a former Trump adviser, doesn’t see it going anywhere.

    “He can’t self-fund. He’s not the type of person that’s a natural iconic leader. He’s not a military leader. He doesn’t have an astonishing record in the private sector. And even though he was on Fox News, he’s not really considered a TV personality,” Nunberg told BuzzFeed News.

    “I don’t think Kasich is exploring a run as an independent,” Nunberg added. “I think he’s looking to raise his speaking fees.”

    Until last year, Kasich had a canny way of seeing the political future. He was an early adopter in the Reagan and Gingrich revolutions that previously reshaped the Republican Party. When Kasich first ran for president — in 2000, though he never made it past 1999 — he ran with a compassionate conservative message, but without George W. Bush’s money or catchy sloganeering. When he ran for governor in 2010, Kasich tapped into the grassroots anger of the moment, bragging that he was Tea Party before it was cool.

    As he made his way back to New Hampshire on Wednesday night, Kasich wrestled with the question of whether, after 2016, he still has the ability to anticipate what’s next.

    “What Trump did was he used negative populism to come up with a quick solution to all of these very complicated problems,” Kasich said. “And I just didn’t think the level of the discourse would allow him to win.

    “I still don’t understand that. I still can’t figure that out. But I know that right now we have a very divided country, and I see these young people, and I don’t see them getting excited or gravitating toward a political party. And I don’t know what this means. And I don’t know what the manifestation of it is going to be. But in my judgment, there’s big change coming.”


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    On this week's No One Knows Anything, we talk about the trade disputes between the United States and Canada (they involve bags of milk and softwood lumber), the current North Korea panic, and what the point of the White House correspondents dinner is.

    Paul McLeod, who covers Capitol Hill for BuzzFeed News and was formerly a Canadian politics reporter, joins to talk about milk and NAFTA.

    How to listen:

    Search for “No One Knows Anything” in your podcast app of choice, like Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, and more. This link automatically opens the show in Apple Podcasts or Stitcher, depending on your mobile device.

    Be sure to subscribe to the show so you never miss a new episode!


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    It started with Michael Sam.

    On May 10, 2014, Sam became the first openly gay player to be selected in the National Football League Draft. After his college career as a defensive end at the University of Missouri, Sam came out publicly, quickly turning him into a household name, a national LGBT icon, and a magnet for media attention.

    But Sam, once predicted to be a second or third-round pick, struggled during the NFL Combine, the scouting showcase for college football players. League executives, controversially granted anonymity by Sports Illustrated, told the magazine that Sam’s decision to come out might hurt his draft prospects.

    So emotions were running high when Sam was chosen in the draft’s last round by the St. Louis Rams — the 249th of 256 players. ESPN, the sports cable behemoth, captured the historic moment on television: Sam gets the call that he has been drafted, breaks down crying, and kisses his boyfriend.

    For ESPN, it was a barrier-breaking piece of TV: an interracial gay couple — one of whom is on his way to the most culturally significant, macho profession in America — embracing in a moment of triumph. One year later, the Supreme Court would rule in favor of national marriage equality.

    Michael Sam kisses his boyfriend after being drafted by the St. Louis Rams.

    ESPN

    But some conservatives also see the wall-to-wall coverage surrounding Michael Sam — who quickly flamed out from the league before stepping away from football in 2015 — as the beginning of ESPN as a liberal, agenda-driven TV network, which they argue is the source of the network’s declining subscriber base and financial problems. “MSNBC with footballs.” Sam was a middling player on the field, conservatives argue, so why did he receive outsize attention from the "worldwide leader in sports?"

    Once a profit powerhouse, ESPN has become a business in crisis as it struggles to navigate the eroding pay-TV industry. Some conservative critics attribute this to a newly politicized network. Other conservatives say they recognize that ESPN’s business problems are deeper — and that the political aspect to ESPN is merely an attempt to generate heat amid that decline. The gleeful reaction, some say, is mostly just schadenfreude. Either way, in the parlance of trolls abusing sportswriters’ Twitter mentions, conservatives say ESPN should “stick to sports.”

    For media outlets on the right like like Breitbart, Heat Street, and National Review, ESPN’s bottom line is suffering because it abandoned middle America and has no idea that its core, white base is really pissed off.

    “I think ESPN is making the same mistake of the Hillary campaign,” conservative writer Ben Shapiro told BuzzFeed News. “Every conservative I talk to is annoyed by ESPN. Every leftist I talk to says, ‘I don’t know anyone who is annoyed by ESPN.’”

    ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut.

    Jessica Hill / Associated Press

    Media industry analysts on Wall Street caution that the network’s problems are about math, not politics. ESPN is spending billions of dollars a year on expensive sports rights deals to air NFL, NBA, MLB, and college football games, long-running programming costs that will continue to be a major drag for years to come. At the same time, ESPN’s subscriber figures are falling as more Americans “cut the cord” and ditch their pricey cable packages for streaming options, “skinny bundles,” or nothing at all. Young people that networks and advertisers desperately try to reach are watching dunk highlights on Instagram, not SportsCenter. Scores and stats are easily available on mobile devices and across social media, unlike the golden 1990s and early 2000s when ESPN flourished. And a newer crop of digital sports media properties and personalities — like Big Cat and PFT Commenter from the Pardon My Take podcast — have captured the attention of college-aged sports fans in place of the larger than life ESPN talking heads of yore. The network has lost more than 10 million cable subscribers since 2011, when it had more than 100 million.

    Investors in Disney, the network’s majority owner, have gotten increasingly jumpy over the past two years, and ESPN has become the focal point of every quarterly earnings. As a result, ESPN has embarked on various rounds of belt-tightening. Last week ESPN made the most high-profile one yet, laying off some 100 employees, mostly on-air talent and sportswriters. The list included well-known names like writer Jane McManus, NFL reporter Ed Werder, and MLB writer Jayson Stark.

    Mpu Dinani / Getty Images

    “The challenge at ESPN is that subscribers are falling, eyeballs watching are falling, and they have way, way overspent on sports rights,” Rich Greenfield, a media industry analyst at BTIG, told BuzzFeed News. “They are scrambling to reduce costs. There is no other way to read it.”

    But some conservatives are reading it another way.

    “This is the evolution of how media has evolved, but [politics] certainly has played a role in how deep the cuts had to be,” said conservative talk show host Steve Deace. “It has hastened their demise. When your business model is collapsing, the last thing you do is narrow your potential base.”

    Like with other stories about ESPN’s business issues, conservative media quickly pounced on the recent round of layoffs.

    “The more you import politics into the spaces people reserve to crack open a beer at the end of the day and enjoy a ballgame, the more apt they are to look for something else to watch that is not full of man’s failures,” Dan McLaughlin wrote in National Review.

    Breitbart, which has written about ESPN extensively, did so again last Tuesday and Wednesday. “It turns out that insulting and demeaning half the population does not make for a winning business strategy,” Breitbart wrote in March. “Growing evidence would suggest the subscriber slump is also driven, in part, by viewer disgust with ESPN’s politics,” according to conservative site Heat Street earlier this year.

    Matt Mackowiak, a Republican communications strategist and longtime ESPN viewer, said that he takes no joy from seeing people laid off. But in his view, the cuts justify the argument that ESPN’s wounds are self-inflicted.

    “These kind of quote, end quote ‘victories’ are so rare that a lot of us feel that we kind of have to celebrate them,” Mackowiak said. “A lot of people feel like this was a rejection of a hard-left political ideology being imbued into a sacred franchise of sports programming.”

    But how did ESPN become such a flashpoint conservative meme? Deace and Mackowiak say that they trace the beginning conservatives’ criticism of ESPN to that Michael Sam story.

    "When your business model is collapsing, the last thing you do is narrow your potential base.”

    “They drove this into the ground. Most of middle America was like, ‘Dude, I don’t know, could the guy get me 12 or 15 sacks?” Deace said. “You had to see Michael Sam as Rosa Parks.”

    Deace added that the right made its own mistake by placing too much hope and praise on Tim Tebow, a deeply religious Christian and Heisman Trophy–winner who ended up muddling through the NFL. “The extremes of both sides are looking for icons to justify their political agendas,” he said.

    ESPN received heaps of criticism for airing too much Tebow coverage, too. And while Sam’s critics like to argue that he was never really that good, lost in the discussion is the degree to which the media hoopla and harsh words from anonymous league executives became a self-fulfilling prophecy that shrunk his draft stock and reduced any chance he had of making it.

    Conservative outrage of ESPN’s Sam coverage was reminiscent of the story of basketball player Jason Collins, who came out in 2013 and became the first publicly gay athlete in a major American sport. It was a huge moment. The network covered the event extensively, and ESPN reporter Chris Broussard came under fire after he made comments equating being gay to committing a sin. The network issued a statement seeking to distance itself from Broussard and show corporate support for Collins, and the incident is to this day cited in conservative blogs as an example of ESPN’s leftist stance.

    Caitlyn Jenner accepts the Arthur Ashe Courage Award during the 2015 ESPYs in 2015 (left), and on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

    But conservatives’ most-cited example is ESPN’s 2015 awards show, the ESPYs. Caitlyn Jenner won one of the more prestigious awards in sports — the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage — after the former Olympian and reality TV star came out as transgender. “The Internet sears with outrage over ESPN’s bestowal of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award on the Athlete Formerly Known as Bruce Jenner rather than giving it to Lauren Hill, the utterly courageous 19-year-old woman who battled inoperable brain cancer while playing basketball for Mount St. Joseph’s,” Breitbart wrote at the time.

    ESPN wasn’t the only one to make conservatives mad over Jenner. Shapiro said he canceled his Sports Illustrated subscription after the magazine put her on the cover.

    Conservatives point to other instances at ESPN, too. In 2015, the network decided to yank a charity event from a Trump golf club weeks after then-candidate Donald Trump famously said some Mexican immigrants were “rapists.” Last year, ESPN analyst and former Red Sox star Curt Schilling — a legendary promoter of right-wing memes — was fired after sharing a derogatory Facebook post about the North Carolina transgender bathroom law.

    bensonbrandon10 / Twitter / Via Twitter: @bensonbrandon10

    This football season, no ESPN story made conservative blood boil more than San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who ignited a media firestorm when he decided to kneel during the national anthem in protest of the oppression of people of color in the US. Other athletes across various sports joined Kaepernick's demonstration. ESPN — along with the rest of the media landscape — devoted significant discussion time. Conservatives argued that ESPN’s pundits painted Kaepernick as a hero, and that middle America disagreed.

    Shapiro, for his part, ties ESPN’s coverage to an attempt to keep up with changing viewership demographics. “This creates a self-fulfilling feedback loop that promotes leftist politics: get good ratings with heavier minority viewers, pander to them with leftist politics, drive away the other viewers, and then double down on what remains,” Shapiro recently wrote for his site, the Daily Wire.

    The layoffs tapped into some conservatives’ paranoia about ESPN favoring minority audiences, too. Hockey coverage, mostly tracked by a white fanbase, was particularly hard hit by the cuts, a detail that rifled across conservative Twitter.

    As for whether people on the right are voting with their feet, ESPN says that consumers are not ditching their cable subscriptions for political reasons. The cable bundle is just that — a bundle. “Anyone who has dropped ESPN has also dropped Fox News channel,” said Mike Soltys, vice president of corporate communications at ESPN. Soltys said that the outrage over ESPN’s perceived politics has become a fixture in the “Twitter echo chamber.”

    Colin Kaepernick (center) kneels during the National Anthem prior to a game in 2016.

    Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images

    According to the company’s internal research from October, 28% of ESPN’s audience thinks the network has at least some political bias and 7% sees a lot of bias, according to Barry Blyn, ESPN’s vice president of consumer insights. Of those viewers who saw bias, 56% saw a liberal bias while 37% saw a conservative bias, he said.

    The company has also defended how it has branched out into other topics. ESPN owns properties like Nate Silver’s data-driven "FiveThirtyEight," which covers politics heavily, and "The Undefeated," which focuses on race and culture as it relates to sports.

    Plus, the collision of sports and politics is somewhat unavoidable in 2017. And at many moments in history — from Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali to the 1972 Olympics to George W. Bush’s first pitch after 9/11 — sports and politics have melded into one. This year is a little more bizarre. We’re now in an environment in which the New England Patriots and the president of the United States can be in a battle with the New York Times over a botched tweet.

    But there’s also an argument that the current moment calls for ESPN to devote time to how athletes think about political life off the field or court. Particularly when it comes to race. After the election, sports figures joined the rest of America in reacting to the shocking result, and pundits wondered openly whether black athletes would continue to attend championship celebrations at the White House. If you’re ESPN, in the business of interviewing athletes, aren’t you going to talk about what athletes have to say? But “if you’re an athlete, aren't you going to talk about what ESPN is talking about?” Shapiro counters.

    ESPN employees are not apolitical, to be sure. “Internally, there’s a feeling among many staffers — both liberal and conservative — that the company’s perceived move leftward has had a stifling effect on discourse inside the company and has affected its public-facing products,” Jim Brady, ESPN’s public editor, wrote in a column last year frequently cited by right-wing media. ESPN issued guidelines to staffers last month on how to mix sports and politics on the air.

    Conservatives say that they would be more OK with political discussion on ESPN, but they feel employees at the network are not free to voice socially conservative opinions if they have them. (The Broussard incident is the frequent example given.)

    Political discussion, for now, doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

    “The challenge at ESPN is that subscribers are falling, eyeballs watching are falling, and they have way, way overspent on sports rights."


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    A US Supreme Court decision from March over Texas' death penalty standards — specifically, how the state determines who is intellectually disabled — could have a ripple effect into another state with one of the country's largest death-row populations.

    The Supreme Court on Monday ordered Alabama courts to reconsider whether the state's process for determining if a person is intellectually disabled, and thus ineligible for the death penalty, is constitutional in the wake of that March ruling.

    Nearly 15 years ago, the Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional for states or the federal government to execute intellectually disabled people. In that case — Atkins v. Virginia — and a follow-up case barring states from using a strict cut-off IQ measurement to determine intellectual disability, the court had left open questions about how a state could determine whether a person is intellectually disabled.

    This past fall, however, the justices considered whether Texas used appropriate standards in making intellectual disability decisions in death penalty cases. The so-called Briseno factors used by Texas courts — a series of questions addressing adaptive skills — overemphasized a focus on adaptive strengths, the Supreme Court held in March, and were not appropriate.

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court's five-justice majority, wrote that the use of the factors "creat[ed] an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed." Even Chief Justice John Roberts, who dissented from the court's ruling along with Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, wrote that he "agree[d] with the Court ... that those factors are an unacceptable method of enforcing the guarantee of Atkins."

    The court sent Bobby James Moore's case back to the Texas courts to address his sentencing in light of the decision.

    While Moore's case was pending before the justices, the lawyer for Taurus Carroll — on death row in Alabama — asked the justices to review Carroll's case on similar grounds. Carrol's lawyer, Benjamin Maxymuk, wrote that if the Supreme Court sided with Moore, Carroll "will be entitled to similar relief from his death sentence."

    Alabama balked, writing one day before the decision in Moore's case was handed down that Carroll's case "is distinguishable from Moore because the Alabama courts do not require a consideration of the seven evidentiary factors developed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Ex parte Briseno" — in other words, Alabama did not use the Texas standards. The state also asserted that the Alabama courts had followed the Supreme Court's ruling in the Atkins case in determining that Carroll is "not intellectually disabled."

    The Supreme Court handed down the decision in Moore on March 28. About a week later — with the decision in hand — Carroll's lawyer responded, quoting from the Moore decision. "As in Moore, the consideration below of Mr. Carroll's adaptive functioning 'deviate[s] from prevailing clinical standards, by 'overemphasiz[ing] Mr. [Carroll]'s perceived adaptive strengths," he wrote.

    The justices did not take Alabama's advice. The court granted Carroll's case on Monday, vacated the lower court's judgment, and remanded the case to Alabama's Court of Criminal Appeals "for further consideration in light of Moore v. Texas."

    Such a move is not uncommon when the justices issue decisions that have a bearing on similar laws in other states or affect related cases. With Moore, however, there had been discussion about how Texas was out of the mainstream because of the way it addressed intellectual disability.

    The court's opinion in Moore said as much, with Ginsburg writing, "The Briseno factors are an outlier, in comparison both to other States' handling of intellectual-disability pleas and to Texas' own practices in other contexts."

    While the justices gave no reason for their decision on Monday (and no justices noted their disagreement with the order), the move does shift the issue — and Carroll's case — back to the state's courts, where Alabama judges will have to decide how much of an effect, if any, Moore should have on Alabama's methods of determining intellectual disability.

    Although Maxymuk declined to comment, another criminal defense lawyer involved in death penalty cases in the state told BuzzFeed News he saw the move as a positive sign.

    "We are pleased that the Supreme Court has ordered the Alabama courts to reexamine Mr. Carroll's case in light of Moore v. Texas," John Palombi, a lawyer with the Federal Defenders for the Middle District of Alabama, wrote in an email. "This will require Alabama courts to follow scientific principles when making the life or death decision of whether someone charged with capital murder is intellectually disabled."

    The state's lawyers, however, tell BuzzFeed News that they will continue to argue that Carroll is not intellectually disabled and should not be exempted from the death penalty.

    "The trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals have already rejected Carroll’s claims that he is intellectually disabled," Deputy Attorney General Thomas Govan, chief of the Attorney General’s Capital Litigation Section, said in a statement. "The State will continue to argue, as it has argued previously, that Carroll does not meet the criteria for intellectual disability."


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    Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images

    New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu defended the city’s recent removal of Confederate memorials from public property, promising that the city will make a “clear statement to the country” in the coming days about the need to take down war memorials like these.

    Landrieu will give a speech addressing New Orleans and the nation, a spokesperson for the mayor said.

    The city has began removing the four memorials, which has spurred violent clashes and reignited a debate over whether Confederate symbols belong on public property.

    “These four monuments were put up well after the Civil War was over by an organization called the Cult of the Lost Cause for one purpose, which was to whitewash the Confederacy and intimidate everybody in New Orleans about who was still in control even after the Confederacy lost the war,” he told BuzzFeed News. “That's not who New Orleans is or was, and it is not an accurate recitation of history.”

    One of the memorials literally included the words “white supremacy.” Due to threats, the removal efforts have required the cover of night, police protection, and a high level of secrecy after the city council voted in favor of taking down the memorials. The matter has gone to court over the last few years, and private financing was secured to move the memorials from the public spaces into storage in “a museum or other facility.”

    “The people of New Orleans have the right to decide what goes on their public property,” he said. “We should not be putting the Confederacy on a pedestal in places of reverence. We should remember so that we never repeat it.”

    During the swirl around the Confederate issue, Landrieu has been a heavy media presence — and was named in a New York Times report to be among a group of national leaders who may be a Democratic contender for president in 2020. Landrieu, the brother of a former senator and son of a former New Orleans mayor and longtime Democrat, previously served as lieutenant governor of Louisiana, but has not otherwise held higher office. Some believe, though, that President Trump’s victory last year may remove traditional experience barriers for potential candidates.

    Landrieu told BuzzFeed News he thought the mention “was hysterical,” adding that the story said he was “one of the people that people thought about,” meaning other people. (The story said he may consider the race.)

    “I thought it was interesting,” said Landrieu, pressed again on the article. “It's always nice to have your name mentioned, and it's nice when people recognize what the city of New Orleans has done. But I've got a year left. I'm focused on that work and I haven't really about what I'm going to do after that.”

    Asked if he had considered running for the presidency, he simply said, “I have not.”


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    Clinton at an interview in New York on Tuesday

    Brendan Mcdermid / Reuters

    Hillary Clinton has found her next role in politics: powering the "resistance."

    The former presidential candidate will help launch a new entity dedicated to funding and supporting grassroots activists and organizers, with a focus on translating the energy of the opposition movement into organizing and tangible results. The project, first reported this week by Axios, marks Clinton's first political effort since her loss.

    In recent interviews people familiar with the plans outlined a project that is still very much in the works, with details as major names and a launch date still not final.

    A Clinton spokesman, Nick Merrill, declined to comment on the plans.

    The central mission of the organization, likely to be structured as a PAC, will be selecting a small but diverse number of progressive groups — new, old, large, small — to not only fund and support those groups, but also build a cooperative, well-organized network.

    For two months, Clinton has worked on plans for the project alongside three partners — including the former governor of Vermont and Democratic Party chair Howard Dean, another failed presidential candidate. The idea behind the group, to seed members of the loose movement on the left incited by President Donald Trump, is a role Dean sees as unique and needed. “We’re not looking to duplicate or replace the DNC or the DCCC or all that stuff,” he said of two central party committees. “We’re looking to give these folks the opportunity to do the building they’re already doing on their terms, but in a more organized way, when the one hand knows what the other hand is doing.”

    It’s an unlikely image of Clinton at age 69. The presidential campaigns are done. The book is closed for good on electoral politics. And Clinton, a mainstay of institutional politics, disliked on the left, decides to carve out a place for herself among the ranks of the grassroots. In other ways, though, it is the one place she sees traces of her own campaign.

    At one of her first public appearances since the election, she described the outpouring of activist enthusiasm as an extension of her campaign. “Ideas we championed are now inspiring leaders and activists across our country,” Clinton told a DNC audience.

    Clinton herself has become invested in the idea of the young activists, particularly over the course of about a half a dozen meetings and phone calls with groups, including new ones and people who just have an idea, according to a person familiar with the conversations.

    Clinton's collaboration with Dean began around two months ago. At a dinner with a mutual friend of theirs, Dean mentioned the new generation of activism and a distaste for institutions that prevent them from organizing together. The friend later relayed this to Clinton, who had been toying with similar ideas — “and that was that,” Dean said.

    (He said both the dinner companion and a second woman were integral to the project, but would describe them only as “high-powered former executives” — one from California, one from New York — “movers and shakers” who have played “major roles on the American scene.”)

    The design of the project is simply figuring out how best to support new or existing activist groups.

    Over the two months, in three or four meetings, they formed a rough plan: The groups undergo heavy vetting, submit a budget for funding, and are winnowed to a pool of 10 or 12 organizations, each with distinct functions or tactics.

    The project is still very much in the works. Dean said, for instance, he did not know if they would be hiring staff. (“We haven’t gotten there yet.”) He is adamant that this kind of project can’t be run from “the top down” and that he will “absolutely not” be running it with Clinton.

    There’s no name for the project, either. “Not only is there not a name for it yet, but there probably never will be,” Dean said, describing the effort as a “loose affiliation of groups” that the project will try to facilitate working together.

    “We’re not gonna tell them what they have to do,” he said. “This is not a top-down organization. It can’t be with this generation.”

    For her part, Clinton is back on the speaking circuit and working on her memoir. She’s also spent that time fielding dozens of suggestions on new projects: university offers, a new women’s institute. The question of her new role in politics has required consideration, as such. Before the project with Dean, Clinton considered some combination of a PAC and a nonprofit, a vehicle for travel and fundraising on behalf of Democratic candidates. The idea was shelved, as was the PAC’s tentative internal name, “Our American Future.” Clinton, those around her say, will almost certainly want to help Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterms. How she does that, and whether it’s through the new activist group, are questions yet to be answered.

    When it comes to Clinton, even after two lost presidential campaigns, there are people for whom the news of something like an “Our American Future” group, for example, will always set off alarm bells. Some Democrats have hoped the Clintons will recede into the background of politics, creating space for new leaders and groups.

    Six months after the vote, the subject still ignites immediate debate, much like Clinton’s campaign and why she lost. Her comment on the subject on Tuesday, in a televised interview, overtook Twitter in an hours-long debate, nasty at points, between operatives, pundits, and reporters.

    Dean, it seems, is ready to charge into that reality. Two or three times on the phone, he punctuated a thought with a sudden, outraged defense of Clinton, responding to a statement that had not been made, maybe anticipating a critical thought or question.

    “Hillary’s a key player, of course. Hillary’s a critical part of this. But this is not some effort by Hillary to redeem herself!”

    Outside Your Bubble is a BuzzFeed News effort to bring you a diversity of thought and opinion from around the internet. If you don’t see your viewpoint represented, contact the curator at bubble@buzzfeed.com. Click here for more on Outside Your Bubble.



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    Joe Raedle / Getty Images

    A federal court on Thursday ordered Georgia officials to extend the voter registration deadline through at least May 21 to be eligible to vote in the special election runoff in Georgia's sixth congressional district between Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff.

    Under Georgia law, only those people eligible to vote in the April 18 special election would be eligible to vote in the June 20 runoff.

    The Georgia NAACP and others argued in a lawsuit that the rules violate the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which bars states from having registration deadlines greater than 30 days before an election.

    Georgia opposed the request, arguing that "[v]oter qualifications in elections are left to the states" and that the runoff was a "continuation" of the initial election.

    On Thursday, US District Judge Timothy Batten held a hearing in the case — and sided with the challengers and against the state.

    The competitive seat opened when Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price left the House to join President Trump's cabinet.


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    Yuri Gripas / Reuters

    Rebekah Mercer, one of Trump's biggest backers, will play a central role in the fight over the future of the influential conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, a battle that could be indicative of the direction traditional conservative institutions take in the Trump era.

    In the last few years, amid her rapid ascent to Republican influence, Mercer became a Heritage board member and, this week, voted to remove former Senator Jim DeMint from his position as president. Although Mercer will be one of the 22 board members selecting Heritage's next leader and deciding its path forward, she has a reputation for exercising strict control over the direction of the political causes she gets involved in.

    Mercer's arrival and presence on the board itself, sources said, seems to be the clearest sign that Heritage will not return to its former iteration as a conservative policy think tank, and instead remain the more aggressive political entity the group has operated as under DeMint and Heritage Action leader Mike Needham. It also means that the group could move closer to the views of the Trump administration — a more nationalist, populist ideology also supported by the Mercers.

    Bill Walton, who serves on Heritage's board alongside Mercer, called her role "influential" but not necessarily "outsized" in determining Heritage's future, while acknowledging that the group will remain politically involved — just not as much as it has been. "It's a turning of the dial," he said.

    Walton also said that in figuring out the path forward for Heritage, the board is grappling with the rise of populism and how that fits in with their conservative ideology. "We've got to recognize what that means," he said. "It's a real phenomenon and we need to think about."

    It's unlikely that Heritage's new leader will be a populist, Walton said, but they're looking for someone "who understands that America is changing."

    Regardless of its recent tensions, the Heritage Foundation remains a major think tank in Washington with many, many employees, a large building, a significant budget, and long-standing relationships. It's the kind of institution that could be used as a bludgeon or a talent farm in the right hands. And Mercer and her father, the billionaire hedge fund magnate Robert Mercer, have a keen interest in introducing "new" people into politics.

    After decades of being a powerful conservative think tank, Heritage in recent years became more political under DeMint, taking on more moderate Republicans and GOP leadership. It was during the height of Heritage’s battles with Republican leadership in 2014 when Mercer joined the group.

    Although the family gives to several nonprofits, Mercer became a part of Heritage after she caught the attention of the foundation’s Board of Trustees Chairman Thomas Saunders III, according to the Washington Post, at an event following the 2012 election where wealthy donors were trying to figure out what Republicans did wrong.

    Now, in voting DeMint out of Heritage, as those close to the group express the need to go back to its more intellectual, policy-driven roots, former Heritage and DeMint employees see the board’s desire to return to policy as an excuse that won’t actually happen — in part, some believe, because of Mercer. They also think it’s too late for the nonprofit to return to its conservative policy-focused glory days, especially under President Trump, whose populist views often clash with what has been considered conservatism in recent decades.

    "The narrative that Heritage is ousting DeMint to return to its intellectual roots is horse manure," said a source close to the former senator.

    "(DeMint) is a guy who, literally, ran his campaign for the House off Heritage pamphlets and incorporated their policy thoughts and ideas into a winning career on the Hill,” the source said. “Their reputation among many of the staffers and allies they are supposed to be influencing on Capitol Hill is now dead.”

    Rory Cooper, former spokesman for Heritage, was also skeptical of the group going back to its former level of influence. “DeMint’s departure and how it was handled is a low point for an organization that was once revered as a preeminent conservative think tank, but is now frustratingly mired in one political controversy after another.”

    Asked about whether Heritage could earn back its reputation as a policy-focused group among lawmakers, Kim Holmes, Heritage's vice president of research, said he's "aware of the controversies and the questions." "I'm just trying to move on," he said. In terms of whether the policy research will be more in line with Trump's views, he added: "The Heritage Foundation as an institution has been here for a long time and will be here after Donald Trump."

    Jim DeMint, the ousted former head of the Heritage Foundation.

    Mike Theiler / AFP / Getty Images

    "We're already having an influence," said a Heritage staffer, arguing that the group is seeing "the same kind of influence with Trump" as it did with President Ronald Reagan, given role in staffing and advising, especially during the transition. "There's no doubt about that. And in a lot of those cases, it's the administration that is moving closer to Heritage."

    Although Heritage staffers stress the group's closeness to Trump, their differing views on policy have complicated the relationship at times. Heritage played a key role during Trump’s transition with staffing and policy proposals. But then, the group opposed the Obamacare repeal bill, which the president backed, and instead advocated for a full repeal of the legislation. President Trump even called out Heritage by name in a tweet at the time. “Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!,” he wrote.

    However, days before DeMint was fired, Trump publicly thanked him and the Heritage Foundation for helping confirm Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

    “Mercer tends to want the Trump administration to succeed, and by all measures, DeMint was fairly successful in that regard with placement of staff in the administration and his influence of judicial nominations like Gorsuch,” said a former Heritage employee, adding that without DeMint, the foundation doesn’t have as strong of a tie to the administration. “So I’m not entirely sure where Mercer comes down here” on the future of the group.

    But it’s clear that Mercer, along with her parents, will play an active role in backing Trump’s agenda and in supporting insurgent candidates when needed.

    “The Mercers are always looking ahead to next cycle with an eye on candidates in both the primaries and generals that will help move the conservative agenda forward,” said a source familiar with the Mercers’ political activities. “Less so with the eye on incumbents, they’re always looking toward the new generation of leadership.”

    The family is already looking ahead to the midterm elections to bring in Republicans who can support Trump’s agenda.

    Robert and Diana Mercer each have already given to Kelli Ward’s Senate campaign in Arizona. The family bankrolled a super PAC that supported Ward’s unsuccessful primary challenge against Sen. John McCain in 2016. Ward now plans to challenge Sen. Jeff Flake, whose criticism of Trump has made him a target. Republicans in Washington have been buzzing for weeks about the possibility that the president’s allies — and perhaps the president himself — will support Ward or another primary challenger to Flake. (Interestingly, Robert and Diana Mercer also have contributed big money to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which operates as an incumbent-retention organization.)

    The Mercers also are expected to continue investing in Trump. Making America Great, a nonprofit formed by Rebekah Mercer and run by the president’s allies, “is looking at the legislative playing field and participating regularly to make sure the president’s agenda moves forward,” David Bossie, Trump’s deputy campaign manager and now a strategist with the group, told BuzzFeed News.

    The group, which was created after other pro-Trump efforts failed to provide the president with the air cover they were supposed to, spent $1 million in pro-Trump ads in March in the 10 states that Trump won where a Democratic senator is up for re-election.

    “We’re looking forward to getting his repeal/replace bill moved this week,” Bossie said Wednesday, a day before the House passed the legislation. “Then it’s on tax reform.”


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    “Sorry, I would heal you, but leprosy is a pre-existing condition.”

    On Thursday, House Republicans passed their Obamacare repeal and replacement bill. The bill now heads to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future.

    On Thursday, House Republicans passed their Obamacare repeal and replacement bill. The bill now heads to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future.

    / AP

    Among the ways people were responding to the bill was by using the hashtag #ThingsJesusNeverSaid, which was trending worldwide on Saturday.

    Among the ways people were responding to the bill was by using the hashtag #ThingsJesusNeverSaid, which was trending worldwide on Saturday.

    Mark Wilson / Getty Images


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    Tim Scott at a townhall earlier this year.

    Sean Rayford / Getty Images

    Sen. Tim Scott would not comment on whether he thinks the Department of Justice was not right in its decision to not bring federal charges against two police officers responsible for killing Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

    The Justice Department last week announced it was ending a ten-month investigation, saying it found “insufficient evidence to support federal criminal charges” against Officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake, II. Its report said Salamoni and Lake had attempted to use less lethal methods to subdue Sterling; that they reasonably believed that he had a gun (he was unarmed); and that given Sterling’s relative size, he also “appeared to pose a threat because he was still moving and his right hand was not visible to Officer Salamoni.”

    Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, is one of the Senate’s most outspoken voice on policing, race relations and the need for more trust between police departments and the communities.

    Asked by BuzzFeed News whether he agreed with, or could at least accept the decision, Scott told BuzzFeed News only that the Justice Department’s decision was “a rough one,” saying he would comment further through an aide because he hadn't researched the case enough.

    Reached by BuzzFeed News, the aide took questions, but didn't respond to that line of inquiry or to an additional email seeking comment.

    Scott had tweeted about the Sterling case at the time of the shooting.

    Scott’s mix of racially-conscious conservatism has earned him both lofty status in black Republican circles and a national profile. In the past, Scott garnered headlines with personal testimony to his colleagues and the country about his experience as a black senator. “I have felt the anger, the frustration, the sadness and the humiliation that comes with feeling like you’re being targeted for nothing more than being just yourself,” he said.

    On one occasion, Scott was said he was confronted by a Capitol Police officer who told him, “The pin, I know. You, I don’t.” The proceeding apology from a supervisor was the third such call he'd received since arriving in the Senate, he said.

    Scott supported Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ nomination to the top law enforcement post defending him against charges of racism that have followed Sessions throughout his entire career. In a passionate testimony, he said that a 1986 letter by Coretta Scott King criticizing Sessions should have been read, but argued that he took his endorsement of Sessions seriously, in part, because of his blackness and tenuous relations between blacks and law enforcement.

    “I have much personal respect for Senator Scott,” said Justin Bamberg, Esq., a South Carolina state representative and attorney for the Sterling family. “However, at a time when law enforcement-citizen relations in this country are on edge, I hope that he and other political leaders in our country are giving this issue the attention it truly needs. We are talking about the unnecessary loss of American lives — not abroad but right here at home. Congress cannot address that to which it turns a blind eye.”


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    Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

    The White House on Monday will announce 10 of President Trump’s nominees for the federal courts, a source familiar with the nominations process told BuzzFeed News — making a faster move on changing the face of the judiciary than any new president in the past quarter-century.

    Trump's list include five nominees for the federal appeals courts: two state supreme court justices who were on Trump’s list of US Supreme Court contenders, one law professor, and two lawyers from private practice. The White House also will announce four nominees for the federal district courts and one for the Court of Federal Claims, which hears civil lawsuits against the federal government.

    The New York Times first reported the upcoming nominations earlier Sunday evening.

    There are 129 open seats on the federal courts — making up about 14 percent of all active lower court judgeships — and 21 upcoming vacancies have already been announced.

    Trump's move — which will take his total number of judicial nominees to 12 — marks the administration’s first attempt at making a sizable dent in the large number of vacancies across the federal judiciary.

    It was the end of July in President Obama's first year in office before he had announced a dozen judicial nominees. President George W. Bush did not even name his first court nominee until May 9, 2001. President Clinton put forth his first group of would-be judges in August 1993.

    Trump's White House in March announced the president's first lower court nominee, Judge Amul Thapar, with no fanfare in the midst of confirmation hearings for Trump’s first judicial nominee: US Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

    Thapar, whose nomination is pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee, is a nominee for one of several vacancies on the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. He also was one of the 21 names on Trump’s list of possible Supreme Court nominees.

    Two of the appeals court nominees set to be announced on Monday also were on that list: Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen, who will also be nominated for the Sixth Circuit, and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras, who will be nominated for the Eighth Circuit.

    Kevin Newsom, a private practice lawyer in Alabama and the state’s former solicitor general, is to be nominated for the Eleventh Circuit; John Bush, a private practice lawyer in Kentucky, for the Sixth Circuit; and Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor, for the Seventh Circuit. (That Newsom was being considered for a judgeship was previously reported by BuzzFeed News.)

    The lower court nominees are to be:

    • Dabney Friedrich, a former member of the US Sentencing Commission, for the US District Court for the District of Columbia. (That Friedrich was being considered for a judgeship was previously reported by BuzzFeed News.)

    • US Magistrate Judge Terry Moorer, for the US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.

    • Judge David Nye, a state court judge in Idaho, for the US District Court for Idaho — a position for which he previously had been nominated by President Obama.

    • Scott Palk, an assistant dean at the University of Oklahoma College of Law, for the US District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma — also previously nominated for the position by Obama.

    • Damien Schiff, a senior attorney at the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, for the Court of Federal Claims.


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    Via documentcloud.org

    The ACLU isn't only taking President Trump to court.

    On Monday morning, the legal organization that has made opposition to Trump a key part of its mission went in another direction — but one with potential implications for the coming years — by suing a Mississippi sheriff's department and county to put a stop to alleged civil rights violations by the law enforcement there.

    The class-action lawsuit alleges that the policies violate federal civil rights laws and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution. The suit is a major effort and is backed by some of the ACLU's top national lawyers — suggesting this could be a sign of things to come from the ACLU should the Trump Justice Department pull back from the Obama administration's efforts at policing law enforcement.

    "The various unconstitutional racially discriminatory policing practices that comprise the Policing Program range in scope and severity," the lawsuit claims, "but they are all conducted pursuant to the [Madison County Sheriff Department]'s single overarching policy, custom, and/or practice of systematically conducting unreasonable searches and seizures of persons, homes, cars, and property on the basis of race."

    The Justice Department in the Obama administration — under both of his attorneys general, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch — aggressively pursued investigations of police departments under its civil rights authority, often reaching consent decrees — court-enforced settlements — to attempt to remedy alleged violations of the law.

    Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has criticized the effects on police departments and suggested that the department will review existing consent decrees.

    In Monday's lawsuit against Madison County, Mississippi, the ACLU — joined by pro bono counsel at Simpson Thacher — alleges that "[f]or at least two decades, if not longer, the MCSD has implemented a coordinated top-down program of methodically targeting Black individuals for suspicionless searches and seizures."

    The lawsuit specifically compares the Madison County practices to those found in two of the Obama-era police investigations — of Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, police departments. The director of the ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project, Ezekiel Edwards, and the director of the ACLU's Trone Center for Justice and Equality, Jeffery Robinson, are two of the national organization's lawyers on the complaint.

    The 86-page lawsuit alleges the sheriff's office operates a series of roadblocks, pedestrian stops, "warrantless and consentless" searches of homes, and "Jump Out" patrols to target members of the black community in black neighborhoods or near "civic institutions frequented by the Black community." The efforts are in some cases pretextual or in others suspicionless, the lawsuit asserts, but all are in violation of the civil rights Madison County's black residents.

    For example, the lawsuit alleges that the sheriff's department has operated "a network of pretextual and highly intrusive vehicular roadblocks concentrated in and around the majority Black cities and neighborhoods" of the county.

    "The MCSD also sets up semi-concealed roadblocks within the parking lots of Madison County’s majority-Black housing complexes," the lawsuit asserts. "These roadblocks are usually located at the sole operational entry and exit to the complexes."

    In addressing the pedestrian checkpoints, "concentrated" in black neighborhoods, the lawsuit claims "the purpose of these pedestrian 'checkpoints' is to conduct a fishing expedition to find any possible basis, no matter how tenuous, for issuing citations to and/or arresting members of the Black community."

    Via documentcloud.org

    Regarding the home searches, the lawsuit alleges that "[t]hese unconstitutional practices include the detention and restraint of Black individuals not suspected of any wrongdoing, and are often accompanied by the use of force."

    Specifically, as to two of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, the complaint alleges that the sheriff's department forcibly entered a home without a warrant in 2016. Once in the house, "The deputies attempted to coerce Mr. Manning to write a false witness statement against a neighbor's boyfriend. When Mr. Manning refused, one of the deputies handcuffed him, choked him, and beat him in the back seat of an MCSD law enforcement vehicle."

    The lawsuit claims that the policies are longstanding and deeply-entrenched programs and that race-based statistical disparities "provide compelling evidence" to back up the claims.

    The lawsuit also claim a "policy of inaction" by the Madison County Board of Supervisors that has allowed these practices to continue, calling it "the functional equivalent of a decision by Madison County itself to violate the Constitution."

    Read the full complaint:


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    Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images

    Paul Ryan has a bit of a juggling act on tap this week.

    The House speaker will be in Ohio on Wednesday to tour two businesses in a Columbus suburb and to lead a roundtable discussion that is expected to focus on tax policy. It’s a subject he and many Republicans are eager to tackle after a risky vote to overhaul Obamacare.

    After those events, according to a schedule and invitation obtained by BuzzFeed News, Ryan will dash to the home of Leslie H. Wexner, one of the Buckeye State’s most prolific donors. There, Ryan will headline a high-dollar reception and dinner benefitting the National Republican Congressional Committee and its chairman, Steve Stivers, who represents a nearby district.

    The House-approved health care plan, celebrated by Ryan and President Trump but facing a far tougher sell in the Senate, could cause trouble for the NRCC as it defends seats in next year’s midterm elections. And the plan has critics among key Ohio Republicans, including Reps. David Joyce and Michael Turner, who voted against it last week. Sen. Rob Portman also has expressed concerns, as has Gov. John Kasich, who remains a major Trump critic.

    Members of Ohio’s Republican congressional delegation also are expected to attend the Wednesday evening fundraiser, though it wasn’t clear Monday how many will show.

    Wexner, who has been one of Kasich’s core supporters, is the chairman and CEO of L Brands, the retail company that includes Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret. For donors, cost of admission starts at $5,000 for the reception and climbs to $25,000 for access to the dinner.

    Earlier Wednesday, Ryan is scheduled to tour Anomatic, which makes anodized aluminum products, and Accel, which according to its website specializes in packaging. Stivers and Rep. Pat Tiberi, another local congressman who is considering a run for Senate next year, then will join Ryan for the roundtable discussion, which was first reported by Axios.

    A source close to Ryan told BuzzFeed News that the event will be “a general discussion on tax reform. ... It will be why the House, Senate, and White House want to act on tax reform.”


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  • 05/09/17--11:43: The Passion Of Ivanka Trump
  • Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

    Ivanka Trump’s new book, Women Who Work, reads like an alien who speaks only French wrote it with Google Translate.

    “We enjoyed riffing on our core values,” Ivanka writes in a section on personal mission statements. “We’re training for marathons and learning to code,” she offers randomly in middle of a paragraph about aspirations. She references the “modern, self-purchasing woman” and describes the act of “cultivating authenticity.” One chapter instructs you to ask a dozen friends to write a “narrative about a time when you were at your best.” Because Ivanka has a literal brand that sells material objects, rather than an existential (“my brand”) brand, Women Who Work also produces surrealist exercises like “At Ivanka Trump, my team and I are striving to create the lives we want to live.” (At Katherine Miller, we are, too.)

    If you accept that this is not a good book — it does not adequately achieve its stated purpose of advising women on how to navigate their careers — then there’s actually something of worth to be found here, even something revealing. Women Who Work offers a portrait of Ivanka Trump.

    That portrait emerges only against the text, though. Women Who Work repeats certain words over and over again in different pairings until they blur together: define, redefine, prioritize, architect (used repeatedly and bizarrely as a verb), essential, crucial, cultivate, connect, connections, authentic, authentically, organically, multidimensional (as in the multidimensional life that you, a woman who works, live) — but all must be in service of your passions.

    Nothing defines the modern, self-purchasing woman like her passions.

    “Hire for passion,” Ivanka writes. “You can teach anyone to do virtually anything. You cannot teach passion.”

    “We’re pursuing our passions and unabashedly making them priorities,” she writes. Passion is “what you bring to the party.” You must “devote yourself to your passions.” You must “prioritize them” — that is, your passions — “to architect a life you will love.” There’s no “final destination,” because “living a life according to my passions is really about the journey.”

    “Passion to me, and to many of the women I know, is our purpose, our reason for being. It’s what infuses our lives with meaning,” Ivanka writes. “Passion is what makes us feel most alive.”

    This goes on for pages and pages, and though nothing lingers quite like the haunting dullness of “Passion is what makes us feel most alive,” the book repeatedly puts forth passion as absolute directive, a spur, without ever describing what that means in practice. This is ridiculous, obviously, to care this much about one word in a book meant as branding exercise. But still: Women Who Work decouples the concept of passion from any specific activity (the subject of Ivanka’s is never quite clear) or any emotional experience (there are no feelings of doubt to be found here). It’s an affectless passion. Imagine a group of 35-year-old women staring toward the horizon and repeating, without inflection: Passion is what makes us feel most alive. Passion is what makes us feel most alive.

    The longer you read Women Who Work, you can end up in this kind of philosophical spiral. You can begin to reconsider what you’re doing with your life and why. What is passion? What does it really mean? This isn’t Ivanka’s fault, exactly; the word "passion" has become a synonym for interest — an activity more than a feeling.

    There’s a certain kind of performative feminism, feminism of the affluent, that seems preoccupied with the idea of passion as activity. This is the feminism concerned with the relative corporate positioning and affirmation of women who went to top 20 schools (rather than, like, the interests of a college-dropout mom or the first woman from a black or Latino family to go to a state college). Passion then becomes something you do — like open a bakery or a lifestyle consultancy group after 10 lucrative but crushing years in banking — or self-care as a luxury item or maybe a positive way of branding “intensity.” We’re talking the passion of a Nike Instagram ad (running through blue-gray city streets in neon orange sneakers, the word HEART appearing, set to a synth-bass line if you accidentally click the volume).

    This all sets aside the idea of passion as intellectual suffering. The archaic definition of the word actually concerns the agony of martyrs (i.e., Christ’s death on the cross). But even the technical modern definition entails interior violence. The word literally means “extreme, compelling emotion” — an emotion that implicitly has an “overpowering or compelling effect,” something that NEEDS to be exercised, that owns you in some way, that can inspire sacrifice or despair or euphoria, something that can break you, actually. This ranges from sexual desire to the depth of emotions to a single emotion in the extreme, the personal investment that leaves you crying in some public place over the World Series. Life is difficult and complicated, and passion — an uncontrollable emotional vector — can be realized, or unfulfilled, or eternally fluid between the two, at the mercy of events beyond our rational selves.

    To link any significant part of your life with a true abiding passion, then, is to risk fracturing the whole.

    Which isn't to say Ivanka is devoid of passion. Weirdly, her book does offer — through a handful of details and a mental exercise in subtraction — a portrait. Again, the whole thing basically reads like the French alien wrote it, so anything that doesn’t read that way stands out, creating a sharp silhouette.

    She really likes running, for one thing: She loves training for races, loves intense hikes. Jared and she literally sort out loose ends while going on a weekly, scheduled run together (no music). Running actually sounds like her only hobby; the most detailed section of the book concerns complex hotel deals that Ivanka oversaw, as she attempted to shift the direction of the Trump Organization into a brand with real hotels. She mentions in passing that she micromanages Instagram crops. She routinely sends email at 11 p.m., and repeatedly and offhandedly describes the kind of ordered schedule that an intense person might favor. “Unlike Elizabeth,” she writes of an example of a woman’s cherished routine, “I’ve never really loved bath time, but it falls within our evening routine, so I try to make it special for the kids.” (This produces the mental image of a glum Ivanka Trump willing herself to enjoy bath time.)

    The subject of her kids, actually, produces this rare note of discord:

    Becoming comfortable authentically expressing myself as a female executive with kids was a bit of a journey for me. So many of the women in my life — like my three sisters-in-law, whom I adore (two are stay-at-home moms, the other works outside the home) — had been so unabashed and transparent in embracing their new roles after having children, and yet I was rather guarded. Part of it was a preference for privacy, but another part was grappling with whether being a young female executive with a baby would undermine my authority in the eyes of my colleagues and peers in a very male-dominated industry. I didn’t share a single picture of Arabella publicly until after her first birthday, at which point the paparazzi snapped a photo of us at an airport. I didn’t want the first photo of my daughter to be sold to the press, so I posted an image myself on one of my social media accounts; after that, I began posting photos of our family more frequently. I wasn’t expecting the overwhelming number of comments I received in response to these candid family snaps. So many people expressed surprise and relief that I was comfortable revealing a more private side of myself… "So amazing! You’re not wearing makeup. I’m used to seeing you on The Apprentice…" [...] Knowing my family is in the spotlight, I decided I was going to embrace it.

    Whether you buy her reasoning here or not, this needless admission of doubt in a cheerful book suggests that Ivanka is actually quite private. In these details, Ivanka emerges highly compartmentalized, driven, disciplined, guarded, family-oriented, obsessed with extending the business, obsessed with the details of selling that brand, perhaps disinterested in culture, perhaps unfamiliar with the messiness that accompanies the common feeling of not knowing what you want to do with your life, someone who likes the rigor of training for marathons and the structure of observing the Jewish sabbath. “Sometimes” she likes turning on Real Housewives and “eating a giant bowl of pasta with a glass of wine” — but, if Ivanka Trump is honest with herself, “it’s kind of counterproductive.” You can have a passion for feeling a certain way, and perhaps hers is for being in control.

    But the company and brand and the negotiated privacy they offered will never be exactly what they were a few years ago.

    So if she does love that feeling of control — if that’s even close to correct — then these days, Ivanka’s experiencing a distinct kind of agony.


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    Joe Raedle / Getty Images

    Addressing one of the largest civil rights groups in the country recently, Tom Perez, the new chairman of the the DNC, broke out a tried and true tactic Democrats like: effusive praise of the first black president.

    “I don’t know about you,” he said wistfully, “but I miss Barack Obama.” He talked a lot about Eric Holder, then leaned into extended remarks about President Trump proposing nothing but “chaos and carnage” in his first 100 days.

    While Perez explained that the Democratic Party’s values were their values, but he didn’t need to. He failed to mention a real plan to engage and organize black voters — which people in the room described as a blunder.

    Much of what the faithful wanted to hear was delivered later, in Sharptonian set pieces by people like Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, and Stephen Green, the national director of the NAACP’s youth and college division. Sharpton himself declined an interview about Perez appearing to his group. However, he wrote in a column he posted the Huffington Post that choosing a populist economic message over one that acknowledges specific disparities black Americans face has people of color who attended his conference feeling their vote is going to be taken for granted.

    “While working-class whites must be organized around their interests, they must also understand the need for affirmative action, protection of voting rights and the need to remedy race-based social policies,” he wrote, not mentioning Perez by name.

    In an email to BuzzFeed News, Jaime Harrison, the newly appointed associate chair and counselor of the DNC charged with strengthening state parties, said Perez’s commitment can be seen through by making Rep. Keith Ellison as his number two, and picking Leah Daughtry to lead the transition — all part of a diverse leadership team that is “committed to addressing the very legitimate concerns African Americans have regarding the party’s past failures.”

    “We reject the notion that you must invest in rural voters versus African-American and Latino voters,” Harrison said. “Frankly, we must invest in both and we haven't for too long regardless of who's headed the DNC. That's why I'm working hand in hand with Tom, Vice Chairs Karen Carter Peterson, Michael Blake and other DNC officers on a plan that not only changes the culture of the DNC but makes real investments in the African American community.”

    For his part, Perez acknowledged the work that lay ahead. “I have to be honest, I’ve been making a lot of house calls. And you know what? We’ve been taking all too many people for granted. I’ve been in Detroit, I’ve been in Milwaukee, I was up in Flint, I’ve been elsewhere. I’ve been in rural America, urban America. I heard from folks in Detroit, Milwaukee and elsewhere that ‘Tom, you can’t show up every fourth October to my church and say you care and say that’s an organizing strategy.’ I’m here to tell you that I hear that.”

    But to leaders like Kirsten John Foy, a Sharpton deputy who runs the Brooklyn chapter of the National Action Network, Perez had a chance to make a statement. He said the speech was an “unforced error” that was “emblematic” of what’s wrong with the party’s strategy — and why it lost the election.

    “You can’t name drop and think we’re going to the polls [based] on a name drop,” Foy told BuzzFeed News of Perez’s speech. “They failed at energizing and it’s more of the same, it’s kind of disrespectful that you would come to the largest gathering of black activists — black, Latino, and progressive activists — and not speak directly to racial and social issues as one of the pillars on which how you plan to rebuild the Democratic Party.”

    “We can’t mobilize our people on ‘Remember the last eight years.’ That’s not enough.”

    Foy is not alone in this criticism of Perez, who ran his DNC campaign on restructuring the organization. He excited influential black Democrats, affirmed Black Lives Matter, and spoke eloquently about voting rights and the need to eradicate racial profiling. But, while it’s early in his chairmanship, his management style and communication are rankling black Democrats nervous that missteps — and a lack of messaging and outreach to black voters — could spell disaster for the Democrats in 2018.

    The added pressure comes just two months into Perez’s tenure in a difficult political situation, as every faction of the Democratic Party wants something (or doesn’t quite know what they want) from the party leadership, following a shocking 2016 defeat, a contentious presidential primary, and years of a hollowed-out DNC. A half-dozen Democratic leaders that spoke with BuzzFeed News have a bevy of complaints: that Perez is paying only lip service to their policy and organizational issues without offering any concrete plans; who he’s bringing into the fold; a lack of depth of understanding of black politics they believe he needs to lead the party. Some of these black Democrats also were irked by the elaborate unity tour with Bernie Sanders, whose politics they contend de-emphasize the issues of minority voters who comprise a major part of the party. In a leadership void, too, a lot of people also want policy and ideological leadership from a political organization that might not be equipped for it.

    Responding to an inquiry about these frustrations, a DNC official said, “There’s no doubt the DNC has a lot of work to do, and Tom is listening to every piece of advice. The challenges facing the party won’t be fixed overnight, so we’ll continue to listen to both leaders and the grassroots of the African American community who have formed the base of the Democratic Party for years but who have all too often been left out of the party’s strategic decisions.”

    These Democrats have made their frustrations known in private meetings with Perez. In a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus that attendees described as “contentious” and “spirited” Perez, who was not expecting to stay long, instead stayed for nearly an hour. He delivered general, off-the-cuff remarks — “milquetoast and generic,” according to one attendee — about partnering with the black members, while reps from the DCCC and DSCC gave the black members of Congress lengthy presentations. “[Perez delivered] a general message about partnership, maybe not understanding they’re concerned, some are angry and have their own issues,” in their districts, one of the sources said.

    Three sources described Perez as a bit flustered in the meeting with black lawmakers, which was also attended by Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan. CBC members expressed dismay they were seldomly used as surrogates in the 2016 election. Another member, Rep. Joyce Beatty, of Ohio, pressed Perez on contracting. (A half-dozen senior black Democrats are tired of hearing the line they “can't find” black contractors to do media, direct mail and other potential lucrative contracts that typically lack diversity. Said one Democrat: “If you can't find them, then we ought to help create them. That's not that difficult.”

    On another occasion, this time with his transition committee, Perez listened as members attempted to convince him of an ominous trend: The party was in the process of losing black women. According to one of the members, who asked for anonymity to describe a private meeting, Perez seemed unsure how to handle these concerns. For Perez, not acknowledging the need for a messaging for black voters is making “black people feel like we don’t have a place in the party.”

    At another turn, Perez was gently informed that many people were starting to feel there was no loyalty between the black community and DNC — they wanted to know what he planned to do about it. “And he never addressed the question,” one person in the room told BuzzFeed News.

    Perez met with major Latino groups in recent days, according to a source briefed on the meeting. He’s yet, however, to formally engage with the black caucus of the DNC, a process one of its members told BuzzFeed News “would be a good start” in dealing with his current troubles.


    “My advice to Tom and the party is to articulate a substantive economic plan that lifts up African Americans and others who have been left behind,” Rick Wade, a Democrat working with Perez said. “Barack Obama is not president anymore, so folks have got to get over that. Resisting Trump is not enough. Folks want solutions — like good paying jobs and access to capital. They want returns on their vote investments. That's how we galvanize and mobilize voters.”

    For them, Perez has a learning curve moving from governing to the political world, and several Democrats who spoke with BuzzFeed News said they would personally lobby Perez to hire a black woman as executive director; Perez is said to be “seriously considering” it, but it’s unclear what his plans are.

    “He’s getting pressure from all sides: voters who feel like we’re being neglect, black and white, and he’s trying to navigate that,” a political aide close to Perez. “He’s learning that...trying to balance all of their concerns is not easy, especially when you don’t have that depth of relationships in the African-American community. He just doesn’t have it. And I think he’d be the first to admit that.”

    Democratic leaders point to the appointment of Harrison, the former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, and Ellison to prominent positions inside the party, as evidence of his commitment to diversity and inclusion. And Perez is not without his supporters on the inside. LaToia Jones, an operative who ran for vice chair and has worked on Perez’s transition said any suggestion that Perez doesn't have the full support of black Washington Democrats is “ludicrous.” DeRay Mckesson, a Black Lives Matter movement leader and transition committee member with whom Perez has met, told BuzzFeed News it was evident from their interaction that the new chairman “understands equity, how to manage large scale change, and the importance of engaging communities of color. I look forward to seeing his plan unfold for the DNC.”

    “We want Tom to succeed — if he succeeds then all Democrats succeed,” another member of the transition committee told BuzzFeed News. “But he needs to understand that the modern day Democratic party is build on the foundation of black people and if he leaves us out he will be crippling the midterms and all chances of a win in 2020.”


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    Eric Thayer / Getty Images

    The Tuesday evening surprise announcement by the White House that President Trump fired FBI director James Comey represented a narrow focus on a single issue, leaving many questions unanswered — or intentionally ignored.

    1. The Department of Justice based the recommended firing, on its face, on an issue that would appeal to Democrats.

    In the letter, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein lays out — at length — a case against Comey's treatment of Hillary Clinton that could have been written by many Democrats. That was a choice.

    "[W]e do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation," Rosenstein wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a memorandum dated Tuesday. "The Director laid out his version of the facts for the news media as if it were a closing argument, but without a trial. It is a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do."

    In his letter accepting Rosenstein's recommendation and forwarding it to Trump, even Sessions referenced the importance of "ensur[ing] the integrity and fairness of federal investigations and prosecutions."

    2. The letters released on Tuesday afternoon by the White House do not mention Russia.

    The closest to a mention of Russia in all of the letters released by the White House came indirectly — in Trump's letter firing Comey. In it, Trump wrote that Comey "inform[ed] me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation."

    Comey confirmed in March that the FBI was investigating Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and whether there are any links or coordination between associates of the Trump campaign and the Russian government and/or their efforts to interfere in the campaign.

    The lack of a mention of those investigations — or what will happen to them — already is raising concerns.

    In a news conference shortly after the decision was announced, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer asked, "Were these investigations hitting too close to home for the administration?"

    3. Does the Justice Department consider this firing to be related to any investigations into the presidential campaigns?

    The letter to Trump asserting that it was "essential" that there be "new leadership" at the FBI came from Sessions.

    Sessions, however, has previously announced that he would recuse himself from all decisions relating to any investigations of the presidential campaigns.

    Specifically, on March 2, Sessions announced, "I have decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States."

    The Clinton email investigation obviously occurred during the campaigns, although the part at issue in Rosenstein's letter related to the treatment of her emails during her time at the State Department — not the hacking of Clinton campaign emails.

    A Justice Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Sessions considered the firing unrelated to any campaign-related investigations.

    4. What comes next?

    The only other time an FBI director was fired, Bill Clinton was president and the FBI director was William S. Sessions.

    In that situation, though, "a harsh internal ethics report" had been released six months earlier, the New York Times reported at the time, and Sessions had turned down the opportunity to resign.

    Here, on the other hand, Comey was in Los Angeles on a work-related trip when he received word of his firing.

    The acting director, under the FBI's order of succession, is the FBI's deputy director, Andrew McCabe. Others follow, as needed, per a 2007 presidential memorandum.

    When Clinton fired FBI Director Sessions, news of his intended nominee to replace Sessions was reported almost immediately: Clinton's pick was a sitting federal judge, Louis Freeh. Clinton had already met with Freeh the week before he fired Sessions, and the announcement came in a Rose Garden ceremony the day after Sessions' firing.

    In contrast, the Tuesday statement from the Trump White House noted, "A search for a new permanent FBI Director will begin immediately."


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    Henry J. Gomez

    NEW ALBANY, Ohio — Paul Ryan came to Ohio to talk about taxes.

    First, he toured a factory, a commercial packaging plant in this suburb north of Columbus. He shook hands. He watched fragrant mist chug down a conveyor belt. He admired a display of BaitCloud, a fishing aide that prides itself on “scent, sound, and visual attractants.” Then, at a roundtable, he attempted to start a national discussion on tax policy and keep momentum going after a risky but nonetheless Republican morale-boosting vote to dismantle Obamacare.

    Ryan did all of those things Wednesday afternoon — as though nothing else was going on this week besides the future of the U.S. tax code. Ryan refused, despite prodding from an unexpectedly large horde of local and national media, to break his silence on President Trump’s bombshell decision the day before to fire FBI Director James Comey.

    “The people in the press, they’re here because they want to listen to me talk about tax reform,” Ryan joked as he began a roundtable forum with business leaders. “So I want to tell my friends in the press: I’ll be making statements later about the questions that they all have.”

    (And, as expected, those statements came on Bret Baier’s Fox News show, where Ryan defended Trump's authority to fire Comey.)

    Ryan pretending like everything was fine — that his message wasn’t being drowned out by cries of scandal — was almost as bizarre as the Trump administration’s announcement and handling of the news Tuesday. And it showed, once again, that no matter how much Ryan tries to carve out a place in the party for his traditional Republican principles, the bang and clatter of the Trump administration always threatens to overshadow him.

    Reporters only were permitted to observe 14 minutes of the roundtable. Ryan spoke for roughly half of that time and spoke generally about his vision for a tax code overhaul.

    “Families are dealing with a tax code that is extremely complicated,” he said at one point, vowing to pursue a simplified plan that reduces the number of tax brackets.

    “Here’s what really is going to help get this economy going, and that is businesses,” Ryan added a minute later.

    Outside, the crowd of anti-Ryan demonstrators included Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper, who Tuesday night offered what amounted to a Twitter high-five to the state’s Republican governor, John Kasich. A Trump critic since losing to him in last year’s GOP presidential primaries, Kasich said he was “extremely troubled” by the Comey firing and called for “full and fair investigations into Russia’s effort to influence our election.”

    That Ryan’s appearance would draw protesters was a given. Progressive groups have organized to hound Republican lawmakers wherever they roam outside Washington. Many of their signs — a mix of homemade, professionally printed, and one electronic billboard featuring Ryan’s mug towed by a flatbed truck — took the speaker to task for the health care bill and offered pre-emptive strikes against his tax talk. “Greed over people,” one read.

    But a few of the posters keyed off the news Ryan was working so hard to ignore. “Stop Putingate CoverUp” read one sign, channeling concerns that Comey was fired as his agency stepped up investigations of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Another said simply: “I’m scared.”

    Inside, the atmosphere was standard fare as far as political photo ops go. Ryan, wearing a white button-down shirt with sleeves rolled up and no necktie, strolled the factory floor of Accel Inc., accompanied by two local Republican congressmen, Steve Stivers and Pat Tiberi.

    As the strong smell of soap wafted — Accel works with brands such as Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret — Ryan initiated a few awkward handshakes and listened as company officials described their products and processes.

    He waved off questions about Comey as workers placed stickers on small, plastic-wrapped bags of beauty products rolling down an assembly line. Moments later, the Wisconsinite, who prides himself as an outdoorsman, seemed particularly taken with the BaitCloud.

    “That’s really cool!” Ryan gushed.

    He was far less impressed with the persistent reporters.

    “Mr. Speaker, was it wrong for the president to fire the director of the FBI middle of the Russia investigation?” asked one.

    Another wondered about “the responsibility to ensure an impartial investigation.”

    Ryan walked away, the open-press portion of his tour finished.


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