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The thawing of tensions is likely a combination of the coronavirus upending politics as usual in Trenton, Murphy’s political popularity skyrocketing in the wake of the pandemic and the increasing independence of Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and his Middlesex County Democrats from the South Jersey Democrats who helped install him in the leadership post in 2018.

There’s also a feeling that it makes little sense for the two sides to openly feud when South Jersey Democratic lawmakers and Murphy will be on the same ballot next year.

“Maybe they just got to know each other better,” former state Sen. Ray Lesniak, a Democrat who has been a Norcross ally in recent years, said, laughing.

Whatever the reason, the Democratic Party in New Jersey is more unified now than it‘s been in years as Norcross, Murphy and Sweeney have put aside their personal distaste for each other — at least temporarily — a year ahead of Murphy’s reelection campaign.

“Things evolve and, frankly, the pandemic has changed a lot of the focus of the discussions, whether it has slowed some things down or caused other things to be placed on the back burner” said Assemblymember John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester), a running mate of Sweeney‘s.

“Priorities get shifted when you have to talk about how you borrow $4.5 billion and then try to hold the economy together,” Burzichelli said, referring to a bill that authorized the state government to borrow up to $4.5 billion — a proposal first floated by Murphy and passed with Sweeney and Coughlin’s cooperation and input.

The good will has produced other results.

In September, Sweeney relented from his previous position and cut a deal on the top issue Murphy has pushed since his 2017 election: Instituting a higher tax on millionaires. Sweeney, who had been a champion of the tax until Murphy became governor, had refused to implement the tax for more than two years.

The Coughlin-brokered deal was part of a largely drama-free pandemic budget that came two years after Sweeney and Murphy’s fight over the millionaire‘s tax came within hours of shutting down state government.

Sweeney has also backed off a plan to form a committee with subpoena power to examine the Murphy administration‘s handling of the pandemic, including how the virus swept through the state’s long-term care facilities, killing more than 7,200 residents and staff.

At the same time, the administration’s investigation into the state’s tax incentive programs has quieted — a final report issued in the fall didn’t focus on Norcross — and Murphy, Sweeney and Coughlin are now negotiating on the future of programs after a year of head-butting which resulted in the programs expiring.

In October, Murphy attended two events with Norcross’ brother, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.), who has has endorsed the governor’s reelection.

And most recently, a top Murphy ally, Democratic State Chair John Currie, granted Sweeney’s request and appointed him to the Democrats’ state legislative redistricting team, allowing the Senate president to protect his South Jersey district, which leans more conservative than many of the safe Democratic districts up north.

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That appointment was not an easy one for Murphy’s allies.

Currie, whose desire to become Passaic County clerk was blocked legislatively by Sweeney, resisted putting Sweeney on the redistricting commission, according to two sources with knowledge of the appointments — and not only because of a personal grievance. Despite growing populations, the Democrats’ delegation includes no Hispanic or South Asian members, and also lacks a voice from the state’s increasingly powerful grassroots progressive community. The five-member delegation includes just one woman.

“The Chairman’s picks for the redistricting commission protect and entrench 1) Dual officeholders 2) Steve Sweeney and 3) The patriarchy,” tweeted progressive activist Jay Lassiter.

There’s also been little chatter about a major primary challenge to Murphy, whose approval rating in recent polls has been above 60 percent.

Assemblymember Jamel Holley (D-Union) has said he’s considering a run, but likely wouldn’t be a serious contender as he’s promoted anti-vaccine conspiracy theories that have alienated some of his fellow Democratic lawmakers while developing a right-wing following online.

Former Newark mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries, who has ties to Norcross, said in early 2020 that he was considering a run for governor, but has not made any recent moves or appearances that hint at a run.

Sweeney, persistently rumored to be considering a primary challenge to Murphy, ended that speculation for good when he secured enough votes from his caucus to return as senate president in 2022. His success in putting together the coalition, aided by the support of Bergen County senators, also ended any hopes that Murphy‘s allies would neutralize Sweeney’s political career.

“The governor’s approval rating is at an all-time high. While many of us were on the Phil Murphy train from the get-go, it’s good to see George Norcross and Steve Sweeney finally getting on board,” said Sue Altman, director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance and vocal Norcross critic.

Sweeney and Norcross did not respond to requests for comment.

But Brendan Gill, a top Murphy political adviser who was mocked by George Norcross at a 2019 Super Bowl party in Puerto Rico, acknowledged that relations have thawed.

“There have been differences of opinion on some of the substantial policy issues that the governor put forward. But what I’ve seen is the natural progression over the first two years and now deep into the third year of an administration where they have started to find areas of mutual concern and be able to work more closely together,” Gill said. “I think it’s a natural progression for an administration to make after having the ability to kind of get planted, so to speak.”




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Joe Biden administration defends its decision not to sanction Saudi Crown Prince

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The Biden administration defended its decision not to sanction Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally for his role in the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, as the White House confirmed no more actions against the kingdom are imminent.

“The United States has not historically sanctioned the leaders of countries where we have diplomatic relations or even some where we don’t have diplomatic relations,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Behind the scenes there are a range of diplomatic conversations.”

Despite President Joe Biden’s comment Friday in an interview with Univision that “we’re going to be announcing significant changes today and on Monday” — and a similar statement from at the White House on Saturday — the administration said it isn’t planning steps beyond the limited sanctions already announced against some Saudi officials.

“The recalibration of relations with Saudi Arabia began on January 20th and it’s ongoing,” the White House said in a statement. “The Administration took a wide range of new actions on Friday. The President is referring to the fact that on Monday, the State Department will provide more details and elaborate on those announcements, not new announcements.”

Psaki, in a separate interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said the administration has been “crystal clear at every level” about recalibrating the relationship with Saudi Arabia and about it’s plan to “turn the page from the last four years.”

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On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced what he called a new “Khashoggi Ban” policy, barring U.S. visas for 76 Saudi individuals who the U.S. said had threatened dissidents abroad.

That action came after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified version of an intelligence report that the Trump administration had withheld from the public. “We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey, to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the intelligence agencies found.

Democratic lawmakers ramped up their calls for Biden to do more to hold the Saudi crown prince personally responsible. Senator Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Fox that sanctions on Prince Mohammed should be considered “if we don’t see a change in behavior.”

The crown prince has said he accepts symbolic responsibility for the killing as the country’s de facto ruler. Saudi officials have said the murder was carried out by rogue agents who have since been prosecuted.

On Friday, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said the government “completely rejects the negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions.
(Livemint)

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Donald Trump

GOP Senator: Trump’s Not Going to be 2024 Republican Nominee

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Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) urged his fellow Republicans to move past former President Donald Trump on Sunday, predicting that due to the damage Trump has done to the GOP, he likely won’t be the party’s presidential nominee in 2024.

Hours before Trump was set to deliver his first post-White House speech at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, Cassidy appeared on CNN’s State of the Union to discuss the current state of the Republican Party and Trump’s place in it.

The Louisiana lawmaker, who was one of seven GOP senators to vote to convict Trump during the ex-president’s second impeachment trial earlier this month, called on the GOP to make issues and policy front and center in the coming elections.

“We’ve got to win in two years, we’ve got to win in four years,” Cassidy told host Dana Bash. “If we do that, we’ll do that by speaking to those issues important to the American people, and there’s a lot of issues important to them right now, not by putting one person on a pedestal and making that one person our focal point.”

Bash, meanwhile, noted that Trump’s influence on the party is not diminishing, despite his impeachment for allegedly inciting an insurrectionist riot at the U.S. Capitol. Pointing out that Trump’s face was literally “embronzed” at CPAC and top Republicans are flying down to meet the former president, the CNN host asked how the GOP can move forward with Trump still in the spotlight.

“CPAC is not the entirety of the Republican Party,” he replied. “That’s number one. Number two, political organizations and campaigns are about winning. Over the last four years, we lost the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the presidency. That has not happened in a single four years under a president since Herbert Hoover. If we plan to win in 2022 and 2024, we have to listen to the voters.”

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Asked whether he was personally faulting Trump for the GOP losing control of Congress, Cassidy demurred somewhat, insisting again that Republicans need to speak to policy solutions. At the same time, he did say that if they “idolize one person, we will lose.”

Noting that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—who was highly critical of Trump’s role in the insurrection—has come out and said he will back Trump if he runs in 2024, Bash then pressed Cassidy on whether he feels Trump is fit to be president again.

“I don’t think—one, he’ll be 78 years old—but I don’t think he’ll be our nominee for the reasons I’ve said,” Cassidy responded. “Over the last four years, we’ve lost the House, the Senate, and the presidency. Political campaigns are about winning.”

“That’s a theoretical that I don’t think will come to pass,” he concluded. “I don’t mean to duck, but the truth is you could ask me [about] a lot of people, if they are fit. Point is, I don’t think he’ll be our nominee.”
(Fox News

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New Republican group promises to have ‘Trump shaking in his boots’ over his future

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Appearing on MSNBC early Sunday morning, a former member of Donald Trump’s administration teased the announcement of a newly formed group of Republicans and ex-Republicans whose goal is to make sure that the ex-president will never be a viable candidate for office again.

Speaking with hosts Kendis Gibson and Lindsey Reiser, former Homeland Security official Miles Taylor noted the current CPAC conference in Florida where the president is expected to get hero’s welcome from the far-right attendees and said it is important that traditional Republicans push back on Trump’s re-entry into the public square after losing re-election in November.

“I want to give you a number: 50 percent,” Taylor began. “Donald Trump can’t get to 50 percent. We just saw this in the most recent election, he cannot win elections. We’ve got to be able to, in the Republican Party, have someone who is a standard-bearer that can get us over 50 percent to win elections. He can’t, he lost in spectacular fashion in this election and that’s why I think it’s entirely inappropriate for us to continue to put him forward as the leader of this party. it’s a mistake that’s going the cause the GOP to lose elections in the future and it’s time to move on from Donald Trump.”

Pressed on his future plans to oppose Trump, Taylor first said, “There are a lot of people in the party ready to move beyond Donald Trump. In fact, most of us realize he is much better at golfing than governing which is really saying a lot if you know anything about Donald Trump’s golf game,” before adding, “Donald Trump lost, not because more Democrats came out. Donald Trump lost because his own voters defected from him.”

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“I’m happy to share with you today a little bit of a tease,” he added. ” I can’t give you all the information, but we’re about to make an announcement in the very near future that’s going to make Donald Trump have the worst heartburn he’s had in the post-presidency. We’re going to be channeling this movement to challenge him to create an insurgency within and without the GOP to drive forward towards a better center-right political movement than Donald Trump can put together. It’s something he’s going to have to contend with.”

Pressed for more details he added, “You’re aware of the fact that we’ve been having conversations with very prominent people in the GOP and ex-Republicans about where we go beyond Trump, how do we move beyond Trump. You’re going to hear from us in the month of March about what’s coming next.”

“What’s coming next is going to make Donald Trump fear for his ability to continue to be a standard-bearer of this party,” he continued. “We are going to channel this movement, rally people together in the center, bring the Republican Party back from crazy to rational as best we can, and Trump should be shaking in his boots.”
(Raw Story)

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