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Snubbed as Obama high court pick, Garland in line to be AG

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WASHINGTON — The last time Merrick Garland was nominated by the White House for a job, Republicans wouldn’t even meet with him.

Now, the once-snubbed Supreme Court pick will finally come before the Senate, this time as President Joe Biden’s choice for attorney general. Garland, an appeals court judge, is widely expected to sail through his confirmation process, which begins Monday before the Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, with bipartisan support.

“Judge Garland’s extensive legal experience makes him well-suited to lead the Department of Justice, and I appreciated his commitment to keep politics out of the Justice Department,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a statement. “Unless I hear something new, I expect to support his nomination before the full Senate.”

Biden’s choice of Garland reflects the president’s goal of restoring the department’s reputation as an independent body. During his four years as president, Donald Trump had insisted that the attorney general must be loyal to him personally, a position that battered the department’s reputation. Garland’s high court nomination by President Barack Obama in 2016 died because the Republican-controlled Senate refused to hold a hearing.

Garland will inherit a Justice Department that endured a tumultuous time under Trump — rifle with political drama and controversial decisions — and abundant criticism from Democrats over what they saw as the politicizing of the nation’s top law enforcement agencies.

The department’s priorities and messaging are expected to shift drastically in the Biden administration, with a focus more on civil rights issue, criminal justice overhauls and policing policies in the wake of nationwide protests over the death of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement.

Garland plans to tell senators the department must ensure laws are “fairly and faithfully enforced” and the rights of all Americans are protected, while reaffirming an adherence to policies to protect its political independence, with the attorney general acting as a lawyer for the American people, not for the president. The Justice Department on late Saturday released a copy of Garland’s opening statement.

Garland will also confront some immediate challenges, including the criminal tax investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter, and calls from some Democrats to investigate Trump, especially after thousands of pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as Congress was meeting to certify Biden’s electoral win. Garland, in his prepared remarks for the Senate committee, calls the insurrection a “heinous attack that sought to distrust a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.”

A special counsel’s inquiry started by William Barr, while he was attorney general, into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation also remains open. It will be up to Garland to decide what to make public from that report,

Garland was at the centre of a political firestorm five years ago as part of a Republican gamble that eventually shaped the future of the Supreme Court. As Obama’s nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who had died unexpectedly in February of 2016, Garland was a moderate choice and generally well liked by senators.

But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said hours after Scalia’s death that he would not consider any Obama nominee — and that the voters should decide by picking a new president that November. McConnell’s entire caucus went along. Many declined even to meet with Garland, even though some privately questioned the gambit.

It was a huge political risk. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was ahead in most polls and could have easily nominated someone more liberal than Garland had she won the White House. But she did not, Trump did and Republicans were elated as they voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch as a justice a year later. The bet later paid off unexpected returns as the Senate remained in Republican hands for the next four years and Trump had the opportunity to nominate two additional conservative justices, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, reshaping the political balance of the court.

Before the high court drama, Garland had been repeatedly praised by some Republicans as exactly the sort of moderate nominee they could support.

The criticism, such as it was, came from liberals, who had hoped Obama would pick someone more progressive, or diverse, than Garland. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, then seeking the 2016 nomination against Clinton, said he wouldn’t have chosen Garland. Liberal activist groups were tepid in their support.

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., was one of a handful of senators who met with Garland, but didn’t budge from his position that a president should not choose a Supreme Court nominee in an election year. Graham reversed course when his party had the chance, ramming through Coney Barrett’s nomination in record time during a global pandemic with just weeks to go before the 2020 election, which his party then lost.

Graham said in a tweet that Garland would be a “sound choice” to lead the Justice Department. “He is a man of great character, integrity, and tremendous competency in the law.”

Garland is a white man, but two other members of the Justice Department leadership, Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke, are women with significant experience in civil rights. Their selections appeared designed to blunt any concerns about Biden’s choice for attorney general and served as a signal that progressive causes would be prioritized in the new administration.

Garland is an experienced judge who held senior positions at the Justice Department decades ago, including as a supervisor in the prosecution of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. But he is set to return to a department that is radically different from the one he left. His experience prosecuting domestic terrorism cases could prove exceptionally handy now.

Garland probably will face pressure from civil rights groups to end the federal death penalty after an unprecedented run of capital punishment during the Trump administration. Thirteen federal executions were carried out in six months, and they became superspreaders during the coronavirus pandemic.

There could be questions, too, about the department’s handling of a federal criminal and civil rights investigation examining whether members of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration intentionally manipulated data about nursing home coronavirus deaths.

The new chairman of the Senate committee handling the nomination, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Garland was well deserving of the post.

“And in light of his past treatment of the United States Senate, his day before the microphones is long overdue,” Durbin said.

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Associated Press writers Mark Sherman and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

Michael Balsamo, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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