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Newsom still deflects questions about the opposition effort by saying he is singularly focused on vaccinating Californians and reducing Covid-19 spread. He has adamantly denied that his abrupt decision to reverse stay-at-home orders last month was an attempt to quell voter frustration. And he seems determined to avoid legitimizing the effort by acknowledging it.

But California Democrats and their political backers are bracing for a campaign nevertheless as recall organizers turn in hundreds of thousands of signatures. State lawmakers are proclaiming their support for Newsom, seeking to tamp down any signs of disunity. Interest groups and donors who would be called upon to fund a recall defense are quietly ramping up, with one union launching the first public counteroffensive.

“Are we getting prepared to oppose it? Of course,” said Joe Cotchett, a longtime ally and donor to Newsom.

Nearly 18 years ago, California’s only gubernatorial recall drew 135 candidates, including several B-list celebrities and one A-lister: Arnold Schwarzenegger, who swept into office on a Republican promise to clean up state government. With just two statewide elections in the U.S. this year — governors races in Virginia and New Jersey — another California recall would likely become the biggest political event of 2021.

Getting the recall onto the ballot is the first lift; voters would then have to decide in a special election whether to recall Newsom and simultaneously which candidate they would prefer instead.

The recall could still fail to qualify. The deadline to certify is March 17, and the campaign is still operating on a shoestring budget by statewide campaign standards, relying on volunteers and some paid mail to collect the 1.5 million valid signatures they need. Proponents claim they have 1.3 million total signatures, still a ways off the nearly 2 million they will likely need to compensate for invalid signatories.

Still, the campaign had a surprisingly high rate of valid signatures in the last statewide report through early January, hovering around 85 percent. California county registrars have verified about 600,000 signatures so far.

“This public report does show a very high validity rate but their ultimate success relies on a few things: what happens to their response rate and what happens to their validity rates as they need to broaden their audiences out past just the hardest-core anti-Newsom audiences?” said Ned Wigglesworth, a consultant who is not affiliated with the campaign. “This huge flag is, as they work their way through the voter file, have they gotten this low-hanging fruit?”

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Some supporters are not waiting around to see. The National Union of Healthcare Workers has launched an effort to dissuade people from signing onto the recall, including testimonials from hospital workers about how a Newsom recall would undercut them, after “it became clear it might qualify and people wanted to do something about it,” union president Sal Rosselli said.

“We can’t risk opening the door to some new administration that would be far less prepared to get people vaccinated and far less committed to protecting health care,” Rosselli said, adding that he had spoken with other labor leaders and hoped to win over “some friends that could make some significant contributions.”

Two of the state’s most respected polls this week showed that Newsom’s support has fallen after the state’s worst stretch of the pandemic, during which hospitals were filled beyond capacity and the state surpassed 40,000 Covid-19 deaths. The Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies survey painted a worse picture for Newsom, showing his approval rating has plummeted from two-thirds in September to 46 percent now among all registered voters. Newsom may take comfort in the Public Policy Institute of California poll, which showed him at 52 percent support among likely voters; that’s a drop from the 59 percent he had in November, but still slightly higher than his pre-pandemic numbers.

Growing voter dissatisfaction may lead to the recall qualifying, but that doesn’t mean it will pass. Democrats have a 46 percent to 24 percent registration advantage over Republicans in California, and the IGS poll shows a 45 percent plurality said they would vote to retain Newsom, compared to 36 percent backing his removal.

A day after those polls underscored Newsom’s precarious footing, the governor appeared Wednesday at a press conference in which Bay Area allies lavished praise on his coronavirus management. “I talk to mayors all over the country, and I cannot tell you how lucky we are in California to have Gavin Newsom as governor,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in introducing him.

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As allies rally to Newsom’s defense, they will likely remind voters in this overwhelmingly Democratic state that the recall was launched by conservatives and Republicans who supported President Donald Trump — and that the top two GOP challengers backed the president who was deeply unpopular in the state. However, even in California, they can’t overreach in their defense of Newsom; state Democratic Party chair Rusty Hicks was roundly criticized last month when he declared the legal recall effort a “coup,” trying to draw a parallel between the signature drive and the U.S. Capitol siege.

Unlike a normal gubernatorial race, recalls do not limit campaign contributions. That means Newsom could draw on the full financial might of his supporters, including the state’s powerful organized labor movement. California Labor Federation spokesperson Steve Smith said labor leaders were discussing contingency plans to protect a “Democratic governor who’s done a lot of good things for workers.”

“It may not qualify, but we’re always going to be thinking ahead,” Smith said, and while he said groups had not specifically discussed financing, “obviously any campaign you’re talking about a resource allocation.”

But an effort to marshal that support could run into lingering tensions with labor officials who still seethe over what they see as Newsom’s uneven record, including vetoing a job security bill and lending a sympathetic ear to gig companies like Uber in a showdown over worker classification. A union official told the Los Angeles Times that Newsom was “putting us out to die” after shuffling essential food workers out of a top vaccine tier.

Teachers unions, an indispensable political force for California Democrats, are also pushing back on Newsom’s efforts to reopen schools. After the governor said union demands would effectively mean classrooms remain empty, the California Teachers Association retorted that their insistence on vaccines as a prerequisite was “neither a new nor unreasonable notion.”

Some Black women remain angry with Newsom for not appointing a Black woman to replace Vice President Kamala Harris, whose departure from the Senate means the chamber has no African American women. “Newsom and the Party better hope that Black women don’t decide to teach them both a lesson and either sign on to the recall or sit it out should it make it to the ballot,” Jasmyne Cannick, a Los Angeles-based political strategist and Democratic Party delegate, said in an email.

And the governor’s effort to build a united front of elected Democrats has run into the same coronavirus turbulence driving the recall effort. Late last year, Newsom called state legislators to ensure they had his back. Several elected officials joined a January press conference organized in part by Newsom’s team that denounced the recall as a project of the right-wing fringe. But numerous Democratic lawmakers publicly assailed Newsom’s reopening decision last week, saying they had been blindsided and questioning the rationale.

Yet some of those lawmakers moved to swiftly temper their criticisms, signaling that they see party unity superseding their grievances with the governor. After tweeting out her frustration, Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Los Angeles) followed up by emphasizing she backs Newsom and opposes the recall, telling POLITICO in a text message that she was “dismayed that people seem to think that my comments were some kind of indictment of the governor or his work.”

“I think the Democratic Party will continue to be very supportive of him,” said state Sen. Steve Glazer, who has been more vocal than many Democrats in questioning Newsom’s coronavirus decisions as not going far enough to protect residents. “No one in the Democratic Party will be happy with any of the current Republican candidates in his place.”

In addition to those Republican candidates — a list that so far includes former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Newsom’s 2018 opponent, businessperson John Cox — the free-for-all of a recall raises the threat of a viable Democrat jumping in to challenge Newsom if he is perceived as vulnerable. That is what happened in 2003, when Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante presented himself as an alternative to Gov. Gray Davis. The gambit by Bustamante failed, and his political career crumbled — a lesson not lost on the current crop of California Democrats.


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Black Lives Matter thought they had Washington’s ear. Now they feel shut out.

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Now, leading Black activists say those issues aren’t getting the hearing they deserve.

“It was grassroots and base building organizations that put our issues at the forefront. That’s who delivered this win to the administration,” said Amara Enyia, policy director for the Movement for Black Lives. “At minimum, those folks should be given an audience.”

Part of the disconnect may be the cultural gap between activists — for whom justice is an absolute, but attainable ideal — and politicians, who deal with the messy realities of governing, forging compromise, and accepting incremental wins. Many BLM leaders, for instance, pushed to “defund” city police departments, only to find little appetite among lawmakers for what was widely seen as a politically suicidal position.

On Sunday, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) signaled that he was willing to water down qualified immunity, which currently shields officers from civil liability for misdeeds, in order to pass some sort of policing reform legislation.

“Well, I will never sacrifice good on the altar of perfect. I just won’t do that,” Clyburn told CNN. “I just won’t do that. … Sometimes you have to compromise.”

So while, at the outset of the new Congress, movement leaders stressed they wanted to play a role in enacting policy change, and insisted they weren’t interested in empty rhetoric or piecemeal reforms, they’re now reassessing that approach as frustration sets in.

Now, where there was once more momentum behind the push for sweeping systemic change, bureaucratic policy hurdles and political calculations have pushed activists with the Movement for Black Lives back to the sidelines.

While this has forced activists to refocus their efforts, they maintain that their organizing is multi-dimensional. And they’ve amassed a sizable war chest. The Black Lives Matter Global Network, armed with more than $90 million in fundraising following last summer’s protests, has channeled those funds into initiatives and campaigns. One, launched in February, targets police unions and police budgets–efforts that have the most heft at state and local levels.

They’ve also used that funding to publicize their assessment of Joe Biden’s performance as he passed the 100-day mark. A recent advertisement paid for by the Black Lives Matter Global Network, criticized the administration’s handling of police reform. The ad, which aired in Washington, D.C., for a limited time, specifically condemns what they see as Biden’s lack of action on the transfer of military equipment to law enforcement.

“We are the people who elected Biden,” the ad says. “It’s time he started acting like it.”

When asked for comment, a White House official did not specify where talks with movement leaders stand. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly explain the administration’s stance, said there is an “open and ongoing dialogue” between senior White House officials and leaders of the movement as well as with legacy civil rights organizations.

Movement leaders also met with members of Congress early in the planning stages for the Justice in Policing Act last summer and asked for a platform to outline the BREATHE Act, several activists said. However, even those they view as allies on the Hill — including Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who is spearheading police reform discussions — were unwilling to diverge from the bill’s core tenets.

As members of Congress continue to hash out a bill to pass with enough Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, activists say they have not been included in any of those discussions.

Melina Abdullah, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and one of the movement’s first lead organizers, said movement leaders have not abandoned their national advocacy work.

She pointed to a number of allies in Congress like Bass with whom she and other leaders have had “critical conversations” in the past about the movement’s role in policymaking.

“One of the things we’re looking at moving forward is having a better relationship [with lawmakers],” Abdullah said. “So rather than lawmakers making laws without the input of a movement that gives traction to them, we want to do a better job of coordinating on the front end.”

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But complicating things is the fact that movement leaders stand vehemently against the Justice in Policing Act, which Congress drafted as a response to their protests. They argue that instead of holding officers accountable, the bill — which passed the House in March — actually gives more funds to law enforcement. Moreover, activists say, police de-escalation training, universal body cameras and data to track use of force, all provisions of the Justice in Policing Act, don’t go far enough.

The bill “requires that police be the fixers of their own problems,” said Karissa Lewis, national field director for the Movement for Black Lives. “And we know that that just has not been a successful strategy.”

Still, the Movement for Black Lives has come out in favor of some national policies that have implications for the work they do on the state level. Activists point to both the For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act as critical to their work. If passed, the bills would curb a number of the provisions in state laws that limit access to the ballot.

Organizers said they were happy to hear Senate Majority Leader ´ say that he would like to pass a major voting rights bill by August, though it’s not clear how he would do so without reforming Senate rules.

And there are activists who are continuing their work locally. A national platform, they say, was never one of their chief goals. Following an unsuccessful effort to reallocate police funds in Minneapolis last summer, activists there say they’re doubling down on their push for more comprehensive public safety plans that give community members more power.

“We know the history of the failure, where we’re expecting [police] to reform themselves,” said D.A. Bullock, a lead organizer with the Minneapolis-based group Reclaim the Block. “We know that’s not possible. We’re looking to a more fundamental change in the way we do public safety.”

Nor do they see Derek Chauvin’s conviction as the final chapter following last year’s organizing against police violence and systemic racism under the umbrella of a “racial reckoning.”

“People are still asking this question of, ‘is anything coming?’ Yes, it’s coming. It’s happening on the local and state level,” said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party and lead organizer with the Movement for Black Lives.

Still, Mitchell added that he and other lead organizers feel they are “duty bound to ensure that [police reform] happens on the federal level.”

Mitchell called for Biden to issue more executive orders and make full use of the bully pulpit to pressure Congress to act quickly on criminal justice reform as discussions around the Justice in Policing Act seem unlikely to conclude in time for Biden’s May 25 consensus deadline.

Federal legislation, activists argue, should address the root causes of the issue: A system of law enforcement that disproportionately harms communities of color. And that means they’ll continue to push for a public safety overhaul — and lobby those members of Congress willing to hear them out.

“We’re not interested in easy solutions, and we’re not interested in nibbling around the edges,” Mitchell said. “This is an urgent and real crisis for us.”


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Palestinians, Israel trade new rocket fire and airstrikes

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In recent weeks, tension has been soaring in Jerusalem, marked by clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police in the walled Old City, located in east Jerusalem which Israel captured and annexed in the 1967 war.

One of the flashpoints in the Old City has been the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site of Islam and the holiest site of Judaism. Another driver of Palestinian anger has been the threatened eviction of Palestinian families from homes in an east Jerusalem neighborhood by Israeli settlers.

Monday was a long day of anger and deadly violence, laying bare Jerusalem’s deep divisions, even as Israel tried to celebrate its capture of the city’s eastern sector and its sensitive holy sites more than half a century ago. With dozens of rockets flying into Israel throughout the night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with top security officials and warned that the fighting could drag on, despite calls for calm from the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.

Hamas, the militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, fired dozens of rockets Monday evening, setting off air raid sirens as far as Jerusalem. The barrage came after Hamas had given Israel a deadline to withdraw forces from the Al-Aqsa compound.

By Tuesday morning, Hamas and other Gaza militants had fired more than 200 rockets. That included a barrage of six rockets that targeted Jerusalem, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) away. It set off air raid sirens throughout Jerusalem, and explosions could be heard in what was believed to be the first time the city had been targeted since a 2014 war.

There appeared to be some first signs of de-escalation in Jerusalem early Tuesday. Palestinian worshippers performed the dawn prayer at the mosque without confrontations as Israel apparently limited the presence of its police officers around the compound. Amateur videos showed dozens of faithful marching to the mosque and chanting “we sacrifice our blood, soul for Al-Aqsa.”

In Gaza, an Israeli drone strike killed a man in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis early Tuesday, according to local media reports. In another strike, a woman and two men were killed when a missile struck the upper floors of an apartment building in the Shati refugee camp on the edge of Gaza City, according to Gaza Health Ministry and rescue services.

Hamas’ armed wing said it intensified the rocket barrages following the airstrike on the house.

The Israeli military said it had carried out dozens of airstrikes across Gaza overnight, targeting what it said were Hamas military installations and operatives. It said a Hamas tunnel, rocket launchers and at least eight militants had been hit.

Dozens of rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. But one landed near a home on the outskirts of Jerusalem, causing light damage to the structure and sparking a brush fire nearby. In southern Israel, an Israeli man was lightly wounded after a missile struck a vehicle.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “terrorist organizations in Gaza have crossed a red line and attacked us with missiles in the outskirts of Jerusalem.”

He said fighting could continue for some time and that “”whoever attacks us will pay a heavy price,” he said, warning that the fighting could “continue for some time.”

Gaza health officials gave no further breakdowns on the casualties. At least 15 of the 22 deaths in Gaza were attributed to the airstrikes. Seven of the deaths were members of a single family, including three children, who died in a mysterious explosion in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It was not clear if the blast was caused by an Israeli airstrike or errant rocket. More than 100 Gazans were wounded in the airstrikes, the Health Ministry said.

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In a statement issued early Tuesday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the rocket attacks would continue until Israel stops “all scenes of terrorism and aggression in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa mosque.”

Tensions at the site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, have triggered repeated bouts of violence in the past.

In Monday’s unrest, Israeli police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets in clashes with stone-throwing Palestinians at the compound.

More than a dozen tear gas canisters and stun grenades landed in the mosque as police and protesters faced off inside the walled compound that surrounds it, said an Associated Press photographer at the scene. Smoke rose in front of the mosque and the golden-domed shrine on the site, and rocks littered the nearby plaza. Inside one area of the compound, shoes and debris lay scattered over ornate carpets.

Over 600 Palestinians were hurt in Jerusalem alone, including more than 400 who required care at hospitals and clinics, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Palestinians and police reported renewed clashes late Monday. Israeli police also reported unrest in northern Israel, where Arab protesters burned tires and threw stones and fireworks at security forces. Police said 46 people were arrested.

Monday’s confrontations came after weeks of almost nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The month tends to be a time of heightened religious sensitivities.

Most recently, the tensions have been fueled by the planned eviction of dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem, where Israeli settlers have waged a lengthy legal battle to take over properties.

Israel’s Supreme Court postponed a key ruling Monday in the case, citing the “circumstances.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned “in the strongest terms” the rocket fire on Israel and called on all sides to calm the situation.

“More broadly, we’re deeply concerned about the situation in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including violent confrontations in Jerusalem,” he said. He said the U.S. would remain “fully engaged” and praised steps by Israel to cool things down, including the court delay in the eviction case.

In an apparent attempt to avoid further confrontation, Israeli authorities changed the planned route of a march by thousands of flag-waving nationalist Jews through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City to mark Jerusalem Day.

The annual festival is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. But it is widely seen as a provocation because the route goes through the heart of Palestinian areas.


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Vatican warns U.S. bishops about rebuking Biden, other Catholic pols

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Ladaria, in his letter, said any new policy “requires that dialogue occurs in two stages: first among the bishops themselves, and then between bishops and Catholic pro-choice politicians within their jurisdictions.”

Even then, Ladaria advised, the bishops should seek unanimous support within their ranks for any national policy, lest it become “a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.”

Ladaria made several other points that could complicate the plans of bishops pressing for tough action:

— He said any new statement should not be limited to Catholic political leaders but broadened to encompass all churchgoing Catholics in regard to their worthiness to receive Communion.

— He questioned the USCCB policy identifying abortion as “the preeminent” moral issue, saying it would be misleading if any new document “were to give the impression that abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest accountability on the part of Catholics.”

— He said that if the U.S. bishops pursue a new policy, they should confer with bishops’ conferences in other countries “both to learn from one another and to preserve unity in the universal church.”

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— He said any new policy could not override the authority of individual bishops to make decisions on who can receive Communion in their dioceses. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., has made clear that Biden is welcome to receive Communion at churches in the archdiocese.

Among the leaders of the campaign to rebuke Biden is Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who recently issued a pastoral letter arguing that Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should not receive Communion. A few days later, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego published an essay saying such an initiative “will bring tremendously destructive consequences.”

Ladaria’s letter was dated May 7. It was first reported Monday by Catholic News Service and the Jesuit magazine America.


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