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In his inaugural address, Biden issued an appeal for “unity” and a revival of functional government. The weeks since — with an impeachment trial and gaping differences over the size of a pandemic relief package — have made clear the low probability in the near-term of changing the relentless partisanship of the nation’s capital.

But a POLITICO survey of select governors, which collectively represents a quasi-symposium, suggests the revival of the practical-minded center Biden extols might be attainable for his administration. Its path likely would run though places like Montgomery and Trenton, as well as Montpelier and Salt Lake City and Olympia, before finally arriving (if at all) in Washington, D.C.

It is not that polarization and grievance don’t exist in the states. No one following the way that Republican state parties in multiple locations have been taken over by Trump acolytes — who have passed resolutions denouncing Republican lawmakers who show insufficient fealty to the former president and his bogus claims that he won the election — could harbor that illusion.

But the survey respondents did illuminate a kind of steady, practical-minded focus that crossed both partisan and geographic divides.

Democrats, not surprisingly, are more eager than Republicans for the new administration to robustly expand government’s role in fighting the pandemic and its economic and social consequences. Several Democrats wish for a national mask mandate from Washington, for instance, while no Republicans do.

More striking, however, is the relative blurring of ideology in the answers. All seven governors who participated in POLITICO’s queries expressed concern about the condition of their state’s economy. Most said assistance from the federal government is necessary for their state governments to meet the demands of the moment, though a couple said they would make do without it.

The survey had two parts. In the first, governors answered multiple choice questions with the understanding that answers would be described cumulatively but the answers of individual governors would not be shared by name. The second part of the survey invited governors to expand on their views and experiences with on-the-record answers.

Both sections highlighted a sense of urgency — and in some cases, a sense of precariousness — that governors perceive about the condition of a pandemic-stricken country as Biden begins.

Their concerns were in every instance about what might be called material politics — that is, problems and remedies which have a tangible manifestation, from job rates to infection rates to energy supply and transition to low-carbon alternatives. In no case did the answers gravitate to the cultural issues — from concern about race relations, or “cancel culture,” or even the all-consuming debates about Trump — that have animated so much of national politics over the past 12 months or the past four years.

Almost certainly, this reflects the nature of a governor’s job, rather than that these particular politicians are somehow wired differently in their interests. But the answers do suggest a way that Biden might transcend a style of politics that often defaults toward remorseless personal and ideological conflict and away from problem-solving. It is by organizing his own administration — as by most appearances he seems to be doing — around material politics. These types of issues by nature tend to reward concrete results rather than rhetorical appeals, and allow for a degree of practical difference-splitting on the way to those results.

What follows are excerpts of the on-the-record portion of the survey results.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, Republican

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

Striking a balance between protecting people’s personal health and their livelihood has been the primary goal of mine throughout the pandemic. Alabama went from a pre-pandemic record low unemployment rate to now being in recovery mode. I look forward to regaining that momentum, while helping distribute a successful vaccine to people in all 67 counties.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

Continually investing in our infrastructure is important to Alabama. Throughout the Trump Administration, we have put Alabama and America first, which has launched business and industry forward. Alabama is a great example of the rebuilding and strengthening of the manufacturing sector. When you prioritize business, you are prioritizing middle America.

Maine Gov. Janet T. Mills, Democrat

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

Making life and death decisions and decisions that affect the economy, schools and people’s livelihoods; making sure people have confidence in the decisions our public policy and public health officials are making. What disturbs me most about recent events, including the election and the effect of the pandemic, is the widening gap between the haves and have-nots, the learnings gap in our schools and the earnings gap in our working communities, things that the vaccine alone will not cure.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

Taking measures to combat and mitigate the effects of climate change — rejoining the Paris Climate Accord; enforcing CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standards, mercury and ozone emission regulations and appliance efficiency standards; providing incentives for energy efficient and safe homes and buildings, renewable energy sources, electric vehicles and home heating apparatuses such as heat pumps.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Democrat

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

As we navigate the second wave, what worries me is the many hard decisions that are ahead if the pandemic continues to worsen. This pandemic has left Governors with options that can only be described as bad and worse. [Last] March, I made the immensely difficult decision to shut down our state, a decision many other Governors around the country made as well. While this was the right choice, it had a massive economic impact on our state, and the struggles that New Jerseyans, whether they are essential workers, small business owners, students, or anyone else, are going through are always at the top of my mind.

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We must also continue to serve low-income residents and our communities of color. These residents have been amongst the hardest-hit by this pandemic, not only in terms of the death toll, but also in terms of the economic impact. Food insecurity and demand for essential social services are at all-time highs and we need as much federal aid as we can get to protect the most vulnerable among us.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

New Jersey serves as a gateway to New York City and Philadelphia, the first and sixth largest cities in the United States. As such, infrastructure is critical to our state. Hundreds of thousands of our residents are employed in New York and Philadelphia, and rely on mass transit to get to their jobs. We have made meaningful progress on portions of the Gateway Program, but we must complete this project in order to avoid economic catastrophe, not just for our region, but our nation. The area covered by the Northeast Corridor rail line is responsible for 20 percent of the GDP of the United States.

The North River Tunnel [that runs under the Hudson River] is in need of imminent repair, and if shut down without a replacement tunnel, will cause immense damage to the state, regional, and national economies, something that the country could not afford before the pandemic, but certainly won’t be able to after. It is of immense importance that the … administration and Congress fund the Gateway Program. We are fortunate to have a [president] that understands more than almost anyone else in government, the importance of a functioning Northeast corridor, and I am more hopeful than I have ever been before that we … have a true partner in the White House.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, Republican

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

There are many things that have kept governors up at night these past nine months, but one of the most serious challenges we face is the amount of COVID-related misinformation and denial we see, fueled by online conspiracy theories and fact-free ideological websites.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

There is no shortage of problems the Federal government must address: COVID-19, the cost of healthcare, infrastructure, the debt, the economy, restoring global alliances, etc. But one of the most impactful initiatives they should pursue is a major federal effort to expand rural broadband across the country. States have worked hard and struggled for years to expand coverage with some success, but we simply cannot get to the last mile without federal help. The digital divide between urban and rural parts of our country has seriously hampered rural economic development in a 21st Century economy increasingly dependent on reliable connectivity. And the pandemic has demonstrated just how critical this need is for rural states.

We have faced a similar problem before and must pursue a similar solution. In the early 20th Century, the urban-rural divide was electricity. Recognizing the importance of electrification to the economy and quality of life in rural America, Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act (REA), which helped states like Vermont get to the last mile. Our country needs an REA-type approach to broadband to help grow our economy, which will help states raise revenue organically to invest in other critical areas.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Democrat

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

Answering in December, before cases began falling: The growth of COVID-19 cases throughout my state and the ability of our health care system to serve all who need care. We must slow the spread of new cases, hospitalizations and death. I remain deeply concerned about the economic impact of the virus on workers and businesses.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

Congress: Financial assistance to help individuals, workers and businesses who have been impacted by the virus.

Next president: Stronger direction and coordination from the federal government, the states have been left to their own devices for the past year and strong federal leadership would have saved lives and protected health.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, Republican

Gordon chose not to answer most of the on-the-record portion, but he did respond to this question:

For the sake of your state’s economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis, what’s the most urgent unsolved problem to address?

Supporting businesses so that they are able to survive through the winter months, particularly given the uncertainty surrounding [an] additional relief package.

Former Utah Gov. Gary Richard Herbert, Republican

Herbert left office shortly after completing this survey.

What about your job worries you the most right now, and why?

Economic development in rural Utah.

From your perspective as governor, what one major policy area do you want the president and Congress to address? Why?

They should focus on balancing the budget.


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Queen sits alone at funeral for Prince Philip to set example

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Other royals who are in family bubbles are sitting together.

The service began with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby entering the chapel ahead of the coffin, followed by Philip’s children and three of his eight grandchildren, as a four-member choir sang “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Inside the Gothic chapel, the setting for centuries of royal weddings and funerals, the service was to be simple and somber. There will be no sermon, at Philip’s request, and no family eulogies or readings, in keeping with royal tradition. But Dean of Windsor David Conner will say the country has been enriched by Philip’s “unwavering loyalty to our queen, by his service to the nation and the Commonwealth, by his courage, fortitude and faith.”

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Philip spent almost 14 years in the Royal Navy and saw action in the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific during World War II. Several elements of his funeral have a maritime theme, including the hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” which is associated with seafarers and asks God: “O hear us when we cry to thee/For those in peril on the sea.”

Along with Philip’s children and grandchildren, the 30 funeral guests include other senior royals and several of his German relatives. Philip was born a prince of Greece and Denmark and, like the queen, is related to a thicket of European royal families.


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FBI says it interviewed FedEx mass shooter last year

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The shooter was identified as Brandon Scott Hole, 19, of Indianapolis, Deputy Police Chief Craig McCartt told a news conference. Investigators searched a home in Indianapolis associated with Hole and seized evidence, including desktop computers and other electronic media, McCartt said.

Hole began firing randomly at people in the parking lot of the FedEx facility late Thursday, killing four, before entering the building, fatally shooting four more people and then turning the gun on himself, McCartt said. He said he did not know if Hole owned the gun legally.

“There was no confrontation with anyone that was there,” he said. “There was no disturbance, there was no argument. He just appeared to randomly start shooting.”

McCartt said the slayings took place in a matter of minutes, and that there were at least 100 people in the facility at the time. Many were changing shifts or were on their dinner break, he said. Several people were wounded, including five who were taken to the hospital.

“You deserved so much better than this,” a man who identified himself as the grandson of Johal tweeted Friday evening. Johal had planned to work a double shift Thursday so she could take Friday off, according to the grandson, who would not give his full name but identifies himself as “Komal” on his Twitter page. Johal later decided to grab her check and go home, and still had the check in her hand when police found her, Komal said.

“(What) a harsh and cruel world we live in,” he added.

Smith, the youngest of the victims, was last in contact with her family shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday, family members said in social media posts late Friday. Dominique Troutman, Smith’s sister, waited hours at the Holiday Inn for an update on her sister. “Words can’t even explain how I feel. … I’m so hurt,” Troutman said in a Facebook post Friday night.

Weisert had been working as a bag handler at FedEx for four years, his wife, Carol, told WISH-TV. The couple was married nearly 50 years.

President Joe Biden said he had been briefed on the shooting and called gun violence “an epidemic” in the U.S.

“Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation,” he said in a statement. Later, he tweeted, “We can, and must, do more to reduce gun violence and save lives.”

A FedEx employee said he was working inside the building Thursday night when he heard several gunshots in rapid succession.

“I see a man come out with a rifle in his hand and he starts firing and he starts yelling stuff that I could not understand,” Levi Miller told WTHR-TV. “What I ended up doing was ducking down to make sure he did not see me because I thought he would see me and he would shoot me.”

Paul Keenan, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis field office, said Friday that agents questioned Hole last year after his mother called police to say that her son might commit “suicide by cop.” He said the FBI was called after items were found in Hole’s bedroom but he did not elaborate on what they were. He said agents found no evidence of a crime and that they did not identify Hole as espousing a racially motivated ideology. A police report obtained by The Associated Press shows that officers seized a pump-action shotgun from Hole’s home after responding to the mother’s call. Keenan said the gun was never returned.

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McCartt said Hole was a former employee of FedEx and last worked for the company in 2020. The deputy police chief said he did not know why Hole left the job or if he had ties to the workers in the facility. He said police have not yet uncovered a motive for the shooting.

Police Chief Randal Taylor noted that a “significant” number of employees at the FedEx facility are members of the Sikh community, and the Sikh Coalition later issued a statement saying it was “sad to confirm” that at least four of those killed were community members.

The coalition, which identifies itself as the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the U.S., said in the statement that it expected authorities to “conduct a full investigation — including the possibility of bias as a factor.”

Varun Nikore, executive director of the AAPI Victory Alliance, a national advocacy group for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, said in a statement that the shootings marked “yet another senseless massacre that has become a daily occurrence in this country.”

Nikore remarked that gun violence in the U.S. “is reflective of all of the spineless politicians who are beholden to the gun lobby.”

FedEx Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Frederick Smith called the shooting a “senseless act of violence.”

“This is a devastating day, and words are hard to describe the emotions we all feel,” he wrote in an email to employees.

The killings marked the latest in a string of recent mass shootings across the country and the third mass shooting this year in Indianapolis. Five people, including a pregnant woman, were shot and killed in the city in January, and a man was accused of killing three adults and a child before abducting his daughter during at argument at a home in March. In other states last month, eight people were fatally shot at massage businesses in the Atlanta area, and 10 died in gunfire at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said the community must guard against resignation and “the assumption that this is simply how it must be and we might as well get used to it.”


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Gaetz ex-girlfriend feared alleged sex-trafficking victim taped call for feds

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Gaetz’s former girlfriend has played a bit role in the unfolding public drama — she is the woman who sent the lawmaker a nude video of her performing a hula hoop dance that he showed to other members of Congress.

But two of her friends, who declined to be identified publicly because of the sensational nature of the case, say she now suspects she was being set up when the alleged victim and another woman involved in the case called her to discuss the lawmaker in what she fears might have been a recorded conference call. The call took place sometime after Greenberg was indicted for the sex crime in August.

The friends did not provide details about exactly what was discussed, but one recounted that Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend said she was opposed to talking to authorities and is now worried that prosecutors might try to charge her with obstructing justice in order to get to Gaetz.

Tim Jansen, an attorney for Gaetz’s former girlfriend, declined to comment about his client. Greenberg’s lawyer, Fritz Scheller, also declined to talk. Gaetz has strongly denied allegations he engaged in any sex crimes.

The three women on the call were all present on a September 2018 trip to the Bahamas that authorities think may shed light on the allegations against Gaetz. Also present on that trip: Gaetz and two other Florida Republican political players, former Orlando-area aviation authority member and Gov. Ron DeSantis fundraiser Jason Pirozzolo and former state Rep. Halsey Beshears.

POLITICO is withholding the names of the women who went to the Bahamas, including his ex-girlfriend, because of the sensitive nature of the case and the allegations that while there, some of the women engaged in prostitution.

As the investigation intensified this winter, Beshears abruptly resigned in January as Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary — a post that made him the state’s top business regulator — noting he had contracted Covid-19. About that time, federal authorities seized the iPhones of Gaetz and his former girlfriend.

Federal authorities are examining the Bahamas trip to see if it violated the Mann Act, which forbids transporting people across state lines to engage in prostitution. One woman on the trip told POLITICO that no one engaged in prostitution.

The alleged victim in the sex-trafficking case had turned 18 almost nine months before the Bahamas trip. But Gaetz has acknowledged he’s the subject of a federal investigation into whether he had improper involvement with her as a 17-year-old.

A source familiar with the investigation wouldn’t say whether the alleged victim was cooperating with authorities. But when asked if she has been talking for months with the federal government, the source said “100 percent.”

While the alleged sex-trafficking victim is key to the case against Greenberg and the allegations against Gaetz, the lawmaker’s ex-girlfriend could play a pivotal role in the investigation of the trip, as well as other related controversies.

Gaetz was criticized for allegedly showing the hula hoop video to congressional colleagues, and he was also accused of engaging in revenge porn against his former girlfriend. But two of her friends say the woman, in her early 20s, did not object to him showing it to friends — provided he didn’t send it to others or post it on social media — because she was proud of her appearance and performance.

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“This is the best I will ever look in my life,” a friend who saw the video recalled her saying. “That’s how she is. It’s not revenge porn.”

The former girlfriend first met Gaetz while she attended college in the Orlando area in 2017. Greenberg, who established contact with her on the SeekingArrangement website — a dating website that connects women with so-called sugar daddies — made the connection. Soon after, she began dating Gaetz, although the relationship was not exclusive, friends said.

Gaetz later got her a job interning in the office of another Republican member of Congress, but that member let her go when it was discovered she was a Democrat, according to Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, who promptly hired her when Gaetz told him of the matter.

Soto, who is not involved in the investigation, would not name the Republican lawmaker or comment about the case. But he said the woman was a hard worker in his office and that he had no complaints about her, other than some inquiries about whether Gaetz’s relationship with the intern was inappropriate.

“We wanted to protect her privacy from the media. She was just an intern,” Soto said. “I’ll also say she was fired by a Republican for being a Democrat. I found it offensive that she was fired for her political beliefs.”

Gaetz and the ex-girlfriend continued to date until well after the Bahamas trip in 2018. Friends said the two remained on good terms, although she was a source of friction between the lawmaker and Beshears. Beshears had apparently been taking her out on dates in Tallahassee, including a trip to the Florida State University president’s skybox at Doak Campbell Stadium, mutual friends said.

At the time, Beshears had recently been left by another girlfriend after she learned about the Bahamas trip. Beshears, then a state legislator, had flown several of the women on his private plane, which was briefly detained by U.S. Customs upon its return to Florida for questioning about the ages of several of the young women on the trip.

“Here was Halsey with three young women who could have been his daughters, and a Customs agent was like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on here?‘” said a source who was familiar with the incident.

Speaking to the partying group and the drama surrounding them, a different mutual friend said: “Tallahassee is like high school. But no one ever graduates.”


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