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Centrist Democrats flex muscles, create headaches for Biden

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WASHINGTON — A moderate Democratic senator from West Virginia is suddenly one of the most powerful people in Washington.

Sen. Joe Manchin has had multiple one-on-one phone calls with President Joe Biden. He can send the White House into a tailspin with a single five-minute interview or three-sentence statement. And he may have already derailed some of the administration’s policy priorities and a Cabinet nominee.

And it’s not just Manchin who’s wielding outsize influence over Biden’s agenda. With a 50-50 split in the Senate leaving little room for error on tough votes, other moderate Democrats like Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Jon Tester of Montana also hold significant political clout in Biden’s Washington, making for a muscular counterweight to the progressives who make up the party’s base.

“Each and every one of these members has the ability to be the king- or queen-maker on Capitol Hill,” said Jim Manley, a longtime aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “If they stick together, and flex their muscles — especially given the tight margins in both the House and the Senate — they can have a real impact.”

While Biden spent much of the 2020 Democratic primary and general election campaigns being hounded by progressives for not embracing far-left positions on everything from criminal justice to health care, his first month in office has won praise from some of his most prominent former antagonists on the left like Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Now it’s the moderates who are creating headaches for the Democratic president.

Late last week, Manchin all but tanked the Biden administration’s nominee for Office of Management and Budget director, Neera Tanden, when he issued a brief statement opposing her nomination because of her controversial tweets attacking members of both parties. Tanden’s prospects for approval immediately sank. Political observers are also waiting to see if Manchin will support Surgeon General nominee Vivek Murthy, whom he opposed in 2014.

A few weeks back, Manchin created a stir when he publicly criticized Vice-President Kamala Harris for doing a TV interview with a local West Virginia station that was seen as an effort to pressure him to support the COVID-19 bill. He received a call from the White House shortly after his complaint to try to smooth things over.

Manchin is one of a handful of centrist Democrats who have expressed skepticism about Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill, threatening to derail the president’s top priority if they don’t win concessions. Manchin, Sinema and Tester have all called for more targeted aid for Americans, and they, along with five other centrist Democrats and seven Republicans, all signed onto an amendment barring “upper-income taxpayers” from being eligible to receive stimulus checks.

“The challenge here is, I don’t want to do too much, and I don’t want to do too little,” Tester said. “I want to make sure it’s targeted and justified.”

Manchin and Sinema also oppose Biden’s proposal to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, likely ensuring that it’s removed from the final COVID-19 bill even if the Senate parliamentarian rules it can be included. They’ve also both drawn the ire of progressives for their refusal to support eliminating the 60-vote threshold for approving most legislation, with one progressive group threatening to recruit primary challengers to oppose them.

Moderates are certain to influence the Biden administration’s next big legislative push as well, a major infrastructure and jobs bill that will include climate planks. Manchin and others from rural states want to see money commitments for rural infrastructure and investments to offset any oil and gas industry job losses.

Neither Manchin nor Sinema are seen as particularly vulnerable to a primary challenge. The political realities of a red-leaning state like West Virginia, or a purple state like Arizona, are in fact what guide the senators’ staunch centrism, says former Manchin chief of staff Chris Kofinis.

“Every one of these senators are still going to sit there and think, what do my constituents want? What do they need? And I think moderates in general tend to be much more sensitive to that because of the unique nature of politics in their states, which are by nature usually more divided,” Kofinis said.

The White House shares those political concerns.

To defend and expand their majorities in the House and Senate in the 2022 midterm elections, Democrats will need to win over suburban moderate voters in tough, Republican-leaning House districts and in states like Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Ohio, where they hope to win statewide. Sens. Mark Kelly of Arizona and Raphael Warnock of Georgia will also need to maintain support among moderate voters if they hope to win reelection in tough states.

Their significance to the final vote on the COVID-19 bill means some moderates are already getting extra attention from the White House.

Biden has spoken to Manchin multiple times, according to a Manchin aide, including at least once right after the president was sworn in. Sometimes Manchin reaches out to the president, while sometimes the president reaches out to him.

But moderates don’t always get — and aren’t always looking for — personal attention from the president.

Some of those who come from deep-red states, where being seen as too cozy with a Democratic president would be politically problematic, avoid saying whether they’ve spoken to Biden at all.

Some, like Sinema and Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, say their staffs are in almost daily touch with the White House.

“I suspect they have Joe Manchin on speed dial,” King joked. But he said the dynamic varies from member to member depending on where they stand on the COVID relief bill.

Tester said he’s not yet at the point where he’s looking for personal calls from the president because his staff members are the ones deeply involved in the details of the negotiations, and they’re in frequent contact with their White House counterparts.

But he was aware of the power he wields to get the president on the phone if he needs to.

“I’m not going to ring his doorbell every time I have an urge to ring his doorbell,” he said. “I’m going to use that ability to contact him when it’s of highest value.”

Alexandra Jaffe, The Associated Press

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AP FACT CHECK: Trump clings to his core election falsehoods

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WASHINGTON — Donald Trump clung to his core election falsehoods in his first post-presidential speech, wrongly blamed wind power for the catastrophic power failures in Texas and revived a variety of the baseless claims that saturated his time in office, on immigration, the economy and more.

A look at Trump’s remarks Sunday at the Conservative Political Action Conference:

WIND POWER

TRUMP, assailing Democrats on energy policy: “The windmill calamity that we’re witnessing in Texas … it’s so sad when you look at it. That will just be the start.”

TRUMP, on President Joe Biden: “He wants windmills. … The windmills that don’t work when you need them.”

THE FACTS: “Windmill calamity” is a false characterization. The power outages during the severe February storm in Texas were primarily due to failures in natural gas, coal and nuclear energy systems, not wind and solar.

Those traditional sources were responsible for nearly twice as many outages as frozen wind turbines and solar panels, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s power grid.

ERCOT reported that of the 45,000 total megawatts of power that were offline statewide during the winter storm, about 30,000 consisted of thermal sources — gas, coal and nuclear plants — and 16,000 came from renewable sources. Wind only supplies about a quarter of the electricity in Texas.

“It’s not like we were relying on it to ride us through this event,” Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin, said of wind power. “Nor would it have been able to save us even if it were operating at 100% capacity right now. We just don’t have enough of it.”

Wind power comes from turbines, not windmills. Windmills grind grain. Trump always gets that wrong.

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ELECTION

TRUMP: “Had we had a fair election, the results would’ve been much different.”

TRUMP: “You cannot have a situation where ballots are indiscriminately pouring in from all over the country … where illegal aliens and dead people are voting.”

TRUMP: “This election was rigged and the Supreme Court and other courts didn’t want to do anything about it.”

TRUMP on Democrats: “They just lost the White House. … I may even decide to beat them for a third time.”

THE FACTS: All of this is flatly wrong, except it is true that the high court did not intervene, because the justices — Trump nominees among them — saw no reason to.

Biden won the election. It was run and counted fairly. His victory was affirmed in Congress, with Trump’s vice-president presiding over the process in the Senate, in the hours after the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection by a mob stoked by Trump.

Trump’s allegations of massive voting fraud were either refuted or brushed off as groundless by a variety of judges, state election officials, an arm of his own administration’s Homeland Security Department, and his own attorney general. His campaign’s lawsuits across the country were thrown out of court or otherwise came to nothing.

No case established irregularities of a scale that would change the outcome — no flood of dead people voting or ballots “indiscriminately pouring in from all over the country.”

Biden earned 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232, the same margin that Trump had when he beat Hillary Clinton in 2016, which he repeatedly described as a “landslide.” (Trump ended up with 304 electoral votes because two electors defected.)

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IMMIGRATION

TRUMP, on foreign countries that are the source of migrants to the U.S.: “They’re not giving us their best and their finest.”

THE FACTS: This falsehood goes way back in the Trump administration. Foreign countries do not select people to send to the U.S. That is not at all how immigration works.

He is referring to the diversity visa lottery program, although he did not identify it as such in these remarks. As president, Trump routinely assailed the program, mischaracterizing it as one in which other countries pick out undesirable citizens to send to the U.S.

The U.S. government runs the visa program and foreigners who want to come to the U.S. apply for it. The program requires applicants to have completed a high school education or have at least two years of experience in the last five years in a selection of fields identified by the Labor Department.

Out of that pool of people from certain countries who meet those conditions, the State Department randomly selects a much smaller pool of winners. Not all winners will have visas ultimately approved. It’s not a pipeline for countries to send their troublemakers to the U.S.

___

CHINA

TRUMP: “We took in hundreds of billions of dollars from China during my administration. They never gave us 10 cents.”

THE FACTS: False and false, and very familiar.

It’s false to say the U.S. never collected a dime in tariffs on Chinese goods before he took action. They are simply higher in some cases than they were before.

It’s also wrong to say the tariffs are being paid by China. Tariff money coming into the treasury is mainly from U.S. businesses and consumers, not from China. Tariffs are primarily if not entirely a tax paid domestically.

___

ECONOMY

TRUMP: “We built the strongest economy in the history of the world.”

THE FACTS: No, the numbers show it wasn’t the greatest in U.S. history, much less in the history of the world. He was actually the first president since Herbert Hoover in the Depression to leave office with fewer jobs than when he started.

The U.S. did have the most jobs on record before the pandemic, but population growth explains part of that. The 3.5% unemployment rate before the pandemic-induced recession was at a half-century low, but the percentage of people working or searching for jobs was still below a 2000 peak.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer looked at Trump’s economic growth record. Growth under Trump averaged 2.48% annually before the pandemic, only slightly better than the 2.41% gains achieved during Barack Obama’s second term. By contrast, the economic expansion that began in 1982 during Ronald Reagan’s presidency averaged 4.2% a year.

___

Yen reported from Austin, Texas. Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.

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EDITOR’S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.

___

Find AP Fact Checks at http://apnews.com/APFactCheck

Follow @APFactCheck on Twitter: https://twitter.com/APFactCheck

Hope Yen And Calvin Woodward, The Associated Press


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At bicoastal Globes on Sunday, ‘Borat’ could triumph

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NEW YORK — When drained of glamour, what’s left of the Golden Globes?

That’s one of the biggest questions heading into the 78th annual awards on Sunday night. The show, postponed two months from its usual early-January perch, will have little of what makes the Globes one of the frothiest and glitziest events of the year. Due to the pandemic, there will be no parade of stars down the red carpet outside the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California. Its hosts, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, will be on different sides of the country.

More than any award show, the Globes revel in being an intimate banquet of stars. When the show begins at 8 p.m. EST on NBC, with Poehler in Beverly Hills and Fey in New York’s Rainbow Room, the circumstances will test the Globes telecast like never before.

Presenters will include Awkwafina, Joaquin Phoenix, Kristen Wiig, Tiffany Haddish, Margot Robbie and Angela Bassett. At least some of them will be present at one of the two locations. Pre-show coverage is still going forward on E! beginning at 4 p.m. EST and on NBC beginning at 7 p.m. EST. The telecast will be streamed on NBC’s website with a television-provider log-in, as well as on the Roku Channel, Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV, AT&T TV, Sling TV and Fubo TV.

But pandemic improvising is only part of the damage control the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which puts on the Globes, finds itself dealing with this year. A pair of extensive reports by The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times in the week leading up to the awards renewed scrutiny on the press association and its 87 voting members.

While the HFPA has long been known as an organization with members of questionable qualification — the majority of its members don’t write for well-known publications — and are known for being swayed by high-priced junkets, the reports again forced the HFPA to defend itself.

Among the most damning details was the revelation that there are no Black voting members in the group, something that only reinforced criticism that the press association — which host Ricky Gervais last year called “very, very racist” in his opening monologue — is in need of overhauling. This year, none of the most acclaimed Black-led films — “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “One Night in Miami,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Da 5 Bloods” — were nominated for the Globes’ best picture award.

In a statement, the HFPA said it would make “an action plan” to change. “We understand that we need to bring in Black members, as well as members from other underrepresented backgrounds,” the group said.

For some, none of the revelations were surprising. Ava DuVernay tweeted in response to the LA Times article: “Reveals? As in, people are acting like this isn’t already widely known? For YEARS?”

Two-time nominee Sterling K. Brown, who’s presenting Sunday, said in an Instagram post that “having a multitude of Black presenters does not absolve you of your lack of diversity.”

“87 people wield a tremendous amount of power,” said Brown. “For any governing body of a current Hollywood award show to have such a lack of voting representation illustrates a level of irresponsibility that should not be ignored.”

Yet the Globes have persisted because of their popularity (the show ranks as the third most-watched award show, after the Oscars and Grammys), their profitability (NBC paid $60 million for broadcast rights in 2018) and because they serve as important marketing material for contending films and Oscar hopefuls. That may be especially true this year when the pandemic has upset the normal rhythms of buzz in a virtual awards season lacking the usual frenzy.

The Globes are happening on the original date of the Academy Awards, which are instead to be held April 25.

Netflix comes in with a commanding 42 nominations, including a leading six nods for David Fincher’s “Mank” and “The Crown” also topping TV nominees with six nods. Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” also from Netflix, is also a heavyweight with five nominations.

Chloe Zhao, the “Nomadland” filmmaker and Oscar frontrunner, is expected to become the first woman of Asian descent to win best director at the Globes and the first woman since Barbra Streisand won for “Yentl” in 1984.

Chadwick Boseman, nominated for best actor for his performance in the August Wilson adaptation “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” could win a posthumous Golden Globe. Boseman is widely expected to be nominated for an Oscar.

And “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” stands a good chance of being crowned best picture, comedy or musical. With many of the leading nominees in the drama category — among them “Mank,” “Nomadland,” “The Father,” “Promising Young Woman” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” — Sacha Baron Cohen’s sequel could emerge a big winner. Cohen, who won a Globe for his performance in the first “Borat” film, is nominated for Borat and for his role in “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

Jane Fonda, a seven-time Globe winner, will receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement. Norman Lear will be honoured for his television career and accept an award named after Carol Burnett.

Jake Coyle, The Associated Press









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