FDA Chief Scott Gottlieb Just Quit

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb resigned Tuesday, in a surprising departure from the Trump administration.

Gottlieb, 46, was sworn into leadership of the $5.1 billion agency in May 2017 and had generally been seen as a quiet and effective leader. He had previously served at FDA during the second Bush administration as a deputy commissioner, with a background as a physician and public health policy expert. News of his resignation was first reported by the Washington Post, with his departure timed for the next month.

In a letter to FDA staff, which the agency shared on Twitter, Gottlieb explained that he wanted to spend more time with his family. “There’s perhaps nothing that could pull me away from this role other than the challenge of being apart from my family for these past two years and missing my wife and three young children,” he wrote. He also thanked them for “their sacrifice over the past two years.”

In his resignation letter, Gottlieb wrote: “I’m fortunate for the opportunity that the President of the United States afforded me to lead this outstanding team, at this time, in this period of wonderful scientific advances.”

He then reflected on what he described as his agency’s signature policies, from seeking to reduce morbidity associated with tobacco use to confronting e-cigarette use by teens, to fighting opioid addiction rates, to improving food safety and tracking foodborne illness outbreaks.

“We cracked down on bogus stem cell therapies, on sham homeopathy, on unsafe medical device products, on tobacco sales to minors, on unsafe dietary supplements, and on kratom,” Gottlieb wrote.

He also noted that the FDA approved a “record number” of generic medicines, prescription drugs, and medical devices in 2017, and then again in 2018.

Skyrocketing prescription drug pricing became a national topic of scrutiny during Gottlieb’s tenure.

Makers of prescription and generic drugs alike praised Gottlieb. “His efforts have made a meaningful impact for patients in need of innovative medicines,” said PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying group, in a statement.

Said the Association for Accessible Medicines, which represents generic drug manufacturers: “Dr. Gottlieb used his bully pulpit to speak out early and forcefully about brand drug companies withholding samples needed by generic drug makers, about rebate traps and other anti-competitive abuses in the pharmaceutical supply chain which unfortunately widen the gap between patients and the affordable generic and biosimilar medicines they deserve.”

Health and Human Services chief Alex Azar also praised Gottlieb’s efforts to make experimental drugs available to ill patients and spur agency approval of more generic drugs. “The public health of our country is better off for the work Scott and the entire FDA team have done over the last two years,” Azar said in a statement. “I will personally miss working with Scott.”

But Michael Carome of Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group that has frequently criticized the FDA under Gottlieb’s leadership, had this to say: “Good riddance.”

“We opposed his nomination because of his deep ties to industry and his deregulatory stances that, in our view, undermine public health,” Carome told BuzzFeed News. “We are not sorry to see him go now, and to hope he is not just replaced by someone else with such deep entanglements with industry.”

Before becoming commissioner, Gottlieb worked in the venture capital industry looking at new health care firms. He served on the board of drug maker GlaxoSmithKline, and had received payments from medical firms for consulting and speeches.

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Michael Bloomberg Won’t Run For President In 2020

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg will not run for president, he announced Tuesday.

In a column for Bloomberg Opinion, he said he has “come to realize that I’m less interested in talking than doing. And I have concluded that, for now, the best way for me to help our country is by rolling up my sleeves and continuing to get work done.”

The decision comes after months of planning for a potential Democratic campaign, and suggestions that he was taking the idea more seriously this time than he has in the past.

Bloomberg had flirted with running for president before, including in 2016 before he ultimately backed Hillary Clinton with a speech at the Democratic National Convention. But his aides saw a new potential opening in 2020 for a person who made a mark as a technocratic, sometimes unexciting big city mayor. Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg’s longtime political aide, told BuzzFeed News last fall that it is “about time we swing to boring with someone who can rise above the fray to chart a path forward toward greater national unity and mutual understanding.”

His fit in a Democratic primary would have been awkward: He first won election as mayor of New York City in 2001 as a Republican, before leaving the party in 2007 and then winning a third term as an independent in 2009. He only registered as a Democrat last year, once he was already considering a presidential campaign.

Bloomberg addressed some of that criticism in his column Tuesday, saying that voters “want someone who levels with them, even when they disagree, and who is capable of offering practical, sensible, and ambitious ideas — and of solving problems and delivering results.”

Bloomberg, 76, is worth over $40 billion, putting him in a unique position to back Democratic causes ahead of next year’s election. He has recently been one of the Democratic Party’s most important boosters, spending millions on midterm races last year and becoming one of the country’s dominant advocates for gun control and measures to slow climate change.

He said Tuesday that he will now launch a “Beyond Carbon” campaign, which he is calling a “grassroots effort to begin moving America as quickly as possible away from oil and gas and toward a 100 percent clean energy economy.”

But he differentiated the campaign from a Green New Deal, which he said stands “no chance of passage in the Senate over the next two years.” Carl Pope, a Bloomberg adviser, told The New York Times that unlike the Green New Deal, this plan would be “speaking to climate,” as opposed to “trying to do economic security as part of climate.”

His decision not to run also should make things a little easier for his sprawling business. In an interview in December, Bloomberg suggested that if he ran for president, he’d consider selling his company or placing it in a blind trust. He also suggested that if he ran, maybe his company’s news division just shouldn’t cover politics. “Quite honestly, I don’t want all the reporters I’m paying to write a bad story about me,” he said through laughter. That uncertainty left reporters at the company a bit unnerved.

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Jeff Merkley Has Decided Not To Run For President And Instead Run For His Senate Seat

Jeff Merkley, a two-term Democratic senator from Oregon who has flirted with a White House campaign for months, announced Tuesday morning that he will not run for president and instead run for re-election to the Senate.

“Over the last year, I’ve weighed whether I could contribute more to the battle by running for president or by running for re-election to the Senate,” he said in a video announcing his decision. “I’ve had amazing encounters with Americans in every corner of our country. And those conversations reinforce the urgency for bold action now, but to win these battles we need both strong leadership in the Oval Office and strong leadership in the Senate. Today, I’m announcing that I am not running for president. I believe that there are Democrats now in the presidential race who are speaking to the importance of tackling the big challenges we face.”

Merkley is up for re-election for his Senate seat in 2020 and under state law would not have been able to run for both his seat and the White House. In December, he dropped a push to change Oregon law to allow him to do so (a similar law was recently changed in New Jersey, allowing Cory Booker to run for both offices). Merkley worried in an interview in February that leaving his Senate seat could allow a Republican in. “I cannot let an Oregon Senate seat go to someone who is fighting for the privileged and powerful,” he said at the time.

Merkley’s decision to skip the presidential race in favor of one for the Senate is unusual so far this year. Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, who Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer had tried to persuade to run for a Republican-held Senate seat, announced on Monday that he would run for the White House. Beto O’Rourke, who ran for a Texas Senate seat last year and has been pressured to do so again in 2020, has decided he won’t run for Senate as he waits to announce potential White House plans.

Merkley knew his presidential campaign would have been uphill in a field that has now surpassed a dozen candidates. In a speech in December to the annual Progress Iowa dinner, Merkley said his campaign would be a “David and Goliath” effort (he would not be Goliath). But, he said then, “There are so many curious and unexpected things that can happen in the course of a campaign. Who knows how that will all unfold?”

In the announcement video, Merkley said America now faces three “great crises” — a “democracy crisis,” defined by voting rights and campaign finance issues; a “climate crisis;” and an “opportunity crisis” that limits economic and educational options for Americans. He said that he plans to help elect a new president and new Democratic senators over the next two years to address those problems.

Merkley, first elected in 2008, is one of the more progressive US senators. He has been one of the leading opponents in Congress of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies and how the Department of Homeland Security has carried them out.

He’s one of 11 Democrats in the Senate to co-sponsor the Green New Deal resolution, and he has pushed policy to address climate change for years. Merkley introduced a plan in 2017 designed to move the US to 100% clean and renewable energy by 2050. That bill was introduced along with two presidential candidates: Booker and Bernie Sanders.

Merkley was the first senator to back Sanders‘ presidential campaign in 2016. He did not say Monday whether he would endorse Sanders’ new 2020 campaign.

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Roger Stone Is In Trouble With His Judge Over A Book Calling Robert Mueller “Crooked”

WASHINGTON – Roger Stone is in trouble again with the judge handling his criminal case, this time for a newly released book he wrote calling special counsel Robert Mueller “crooked” — which he only recently brought to the judge’s attention.

Stone’s lawyers filed a sealed document on Friday alerting US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson that Stone’s book was coming out and that part of it might violate the Feb. 21 gag order she imposed on Stone, if he’d written it after her order took effect. But, they contend, Stone submitted the section at issue to his publisher in January, and they’re asking the judge to clarify that the book doesn’t violate her order.

The book isn’t new. It’s a rerelease of a book that Stone, a longtime adviser to President Donald Trump, published in 2017 about the 2016 election. The new version features a new title — he renamed it from The Making of the President 2016 to The Myth of Russian Collusion — and a new introduction, which is dated January 2019. In that introduction, Stone refers to Mueller as “Crooked Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller,” and claims he was on Mueller’s “hit list” because he’d served as a longtime adviser to Trump.

“I am being targeted not because I committed a crime, but because the Deep State liberals want to silence me and pressure me to testify against my good friend,” Stone wrote.

In a redacted version of Stone’s Friday filing that was made public on Monday, Stone’s lawyers blacked out a description of the part of the book at issue, but prosecutors filed a notice with the court on Monday confirming that it’s the new introduction that Stone wrote. Prosecutors also noted that Stone’s book is available online — a copy of the introduction is accessible via the preview function on Amazon’s website.

The government also alerted the judge to a now-deleted Instagram post that Stone put up over the weekend with a photo of himself and the text, “Who Framed Roger Stone,” a nod to the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Prosecutors also included a link to a news article about the post speculating whether it might violate Jackson’s gag order.

Jackson’s order prohibits Stone from making public comments, including via social media, “about the Special Counsel’s investigation or this case or any of the participants in the investigation or the case.” The judge specified that Stone could proclaim his innocence and ask for donations for his legal defense fund, but that was it.

In an Instagram post on Feb. 18, three days before the Jackson entered the gag order, Stone promoted the upcoming rerelease, posting a photo of the book cover, which says that the latest version includes “an explosive new introduction.” Stone’s lawyers wrote that the introduction “could have contravened the Court’s Order” if it was written after Feb. 21, but they said it was all written before; Stone submitted the draft and went through edits in mid-January, they said.

On Friday night, Jackson ordered Stone to clarify when the book would be released and why it wasn’t brought to her attention sooner. She quoted one of Stone’s lawyers during a Feb. 21 hearing when they outlined what they thought a gag order should say: “[Stone] should not be talking about this Court. He should not be talking about the special prosecutor. … There are a lot of reasons why somebody may feel like they should be talking about things like that. But you and I know, as officers of the court … this is not appropriate. And that, if we’re going to have an order, that’s what I ask the Court to do.”

On Monday, Stone’s lawyers filed a response saying they didn’t bring the book up at the Feb. 21 hearing because, at that point, there was no significant limit on Stone’s public speech; the judge previously had only barred Stone from talking to the media outside the federal courthouse in Washington, DC. Addressing a book that Stone had already written and that he didn’t have control over — the publisher was in charge of printing and distribution — wasn’t relevant to the “forward-looking” focus of that hearing, his lawyers wrote.

Stone’s Instagram post said the book would be in stores March, but it’s been on sale since early February and has sold 96 copies as of Feb. 16, according to a declaration from Stone’s publisher that Stone’s lawyers also filed with the court.

Stone is charged with lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks during the 2016 election and trying to tamper with witnesses. He faces one count of obstructing Congress, five counts of making false statements to Congress, and one count of witness tampering. He faces up to 20 years in prison on the tampering count and up to five years in prison for each of the other charges.

In the book’s new introduction, Stone addresses his testimony to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence about the hack of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 campaign and the subsequent release of stolen emails via WikiLeaks. Stone wrote in the introduction that he had asked for his testimony to be public “so that the American people could judge my veracity and see the partisan nature of my inquisitors and their trick questions, but this request was denied.”

A group of Russian nationals have been charged by Mueller’s office with orchestrating the hack. Stone again denied that he knew the source of the stolen DNC emails or that he knew about WikiLeaks’s plan to release them.

“All of this has been a most extraordinary personal nightmare as Mueller has investigated me for over two years, probing deeply into every aspect of my personal, private, family, business, and political life,” Stone wrote. “According to CNN, Mueller has reviewed all of my personal financial records, and there is substantial evidence that all of my emails, text messages, and phone calls have been reviewed by the special counsel.”

“Historians will one day write about these dark days in which America’s ruling elite conspired to create the biggest witch hunt in our country’s history,” Stone wrote.

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Trump’s Cuts To USAID Funding Has Palestinian Women Scrambling To Treat Their Breast Cancer

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Women confronting breast cancer are being hit hard after the Trump administration stopped USAID programs benefiting Palestinians, say aid groups, doctors healthcare workers and patients.

The US effectively stopped government aid programs benefiting Palestinians in February, and humanitarian aid groups and hospital administrators in Gaza and Jerusalem say aid cuts are doing serious harm to vulnerable patients at a time when healthcare systems used by Palestinians are already heavily strained.

Aid fund from the US totaling hundreds of millions of dollars benefiting Palestinians were cut off last year before Washington effectively ended aid to the West Bank and Gaza last month, moves critics say have had a devastating impact on healthcare programs, politicizing human health.

Among the programs stopped as a result of the cuts is one that was optimistically dubbed Gaza Health Matters 2020, a $50 million project that was supposed to run for five years, providing prenatal care for Palestinian women, treating the injured in Gaza and funding mammograms and biopsies for women.

“For the women who needed biopsies, we did 5 or 6 but then just stopped,” said Eman Shanan, the founder of an organization called Aid and Hope, a local NGO that works to help Gazan women seek breast cancer treatment and diagnosis, and was the primary NGO implementing the Gaza Health Matters program with USAID funds along with the Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza.

Shanan, who herself survived breast cancer, knows firsthand how difficult it is for Gazan women to seek diagnosis and treatment for the illness. Because of cultural stigmas, they will have to deal with pressure from their families and may lack funds to seek diagnosis or treatment, she said. Cancer treatment options in Gaza are also severely limited because of chronic drug shortages and lack of access to certain kinds of treatments like radiotherapy, and obtaining permits to travel to Jerusalem to seek treatment can be a lengthy, frustrating process.

These factors have resulted in many Gazan women getting diagnosed and treated too late, pushing up the mortality rate for breast cancer. Shanan had hoped to change that.

More than 1,000 women who had mammograms done through the Health Matters program were flagged for follow-up appointments, said Shanan. Now they’ll have to seek them elsewhere.

The funding for the Gaza Health Matters program came through a project with International Medical Corps that has effectively been shut down since September 2018, say sources in the medical and aid communities.

“They were half of the way there actually in designing a number of development projects, but also some urgent responses addressing the immediate needs of patients including women with breast cancer,” said Fikr Shalltoot, director of programmes in Gaza for the UK-based Medical Aid for Palestinians. “There was a big plan to build community awareness around breast cancer, to provide screening and follow-up.”

“But with the cut of funds, all the projects they were supporting had to be terminated pretty much totally.”

A USAID official noted President Donald Trump directed a review of US assistance to the Palestinian Authority and in the West Bank and Gaza in 2018 to make sure the funds benefited the US national interests.

“As a result of that review, we redirected to other high-priority projects” the more than $200 million in economic support funds that were originally slated to go to programs in the West Bank and Gaza, the official told BuzzFeed News.

Trump has made clear that aid to Palestinians is linked to their willingness to negotiate.

“That money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace, because I can tell you that Israel does want to make peace, and they’re going to have to want to make peace, too, or we’re going to have nothing to do with it any longer,” he said in January.

The issue is especially serious because aid groups say they’re facing a shortfall of funding sources more broadly.

“The US government has played a major role in developing the capacity of our hospitals,” said Walid Nammour, CEO of the Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem, saying many of their doctors had trained in the United States as well as at other hospitals in the country with assistance from USAID funds. “This was the case until our great man Trump came. They’re using sick children’s lives, human lives to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority, and this is inhumane, illegal and unacceptable.”

Beyond aid programs, the aid cuts are straining the network of six hospitals in east Jerusalem where Palestinians seek treatment. The hospitals say the cuts are straining capacity for the hospitals, delaying urgent treatments to Palestinians that they can only obtain there including lifesaving.

Aid cuts were initially billed as a temporary measure early last year. But this month, Congress passed a law called the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act which aid groups say has cut off funding to them for the foreseeable future unless an amendment is passed carving out an exemption for humanitarian causes.

“The situation right now is not good,” said Mor Efrat of the Israel-based group Physicians for Human Rights. “The starting point was not good at all and it’s only going to get worse. The general direction is very pessimistic.”

Nammour runs Augusta Victoria, the main hospital in East Jerusalem where Palestinian women, especially those from Gaza, are able to obtain treatment for breast cancer. The Lutheran hospital relied on USAID funds, which were dispensed through the Palestinian Authority, for years to train its doctors and pay for treatment costs. Over the past year the PA has contributed only a fraction of the $51 million it was supposed to provide Augusta Victoria.

Augusta Victoria is particularly important to Gazan women because of chronic shortages of chemotherapy drugs and a lack of treatment options within Gaza. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among Palestinian women, but treatment options in Gaza are severely limited.

Women can receive screenings and some surgeries in Gaza, but must obtain a permit to travel to Jerusalem for more sophisticated treatments that are not available in Gaza like radiotherapy — a process that is already fraught with lengthy wait times and unexplained denials. Thirty-nine percent of applications for permits to exit Gaza for medical care were rejected in 2018, according to the World Health Organization. This is a sharp decline from as recently as 2014, when more than 80% of patients were granted permits.

“We’ve received more and more requests from female cancer patients from Gaza telling us they can’t get a permit to get treatment,” said Efrat, whose organization has advocated on behalf of female Palestinian cancer patients to Israeli authorities involved in granting permits including Shin Bet. “Seven years ago if you were a woman and you had cancer from Gaza, most likely you’d get a permit. Usually it was men who wouldn’t get them. But the situation got worse.”

According to the World Health Organization, only 65% of Gazan women diagnosed with breast cancer survive for five years after diagnosis — a mortality rate that’s significantly higher than that of Israeli patients. Gazan women may be slow to seek treatment for cost or cultural reasons, and may not have access to good medical facilities. But another significant factor is the wait time they face for hospitals like Augusta Victoria — something that is increasing because of the USAID funding cuts, Nammour said. Waiting means more patients die.

Mercy Corps, an international medical NGO that funds medical programs in Gaza, said it had reduced its staff by 40% as a result of the US funding cuts.

“The humanitarian side of our program has basically been decimated. Our funding stopped in August and we haven’t been able to fill the gap,” said Andy Dwonch, program director at Mercy Corps in Jerusalem. “We’re working hard at it, but humanitarian funding doesn’t just turn off as other funding turns off. The broader issue is that we’re in a resource constrained environment, and all donors and organizations feel stretched.”

The WHO said this month that Gaza’s healthcare system is collapsing.

Beyond the humanitarian problems, critics of the aid cuts say they have damaged US credibility.

“It’s horrible,” said Dave Harden, the former mission director for USAID in the West Bank and Gaza. “It’s a monument to our lack of credibility. We can’t be making things worse — it would have been better not to come in the first place.”

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Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper Is Running For President

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper will run for president, he announced in a video Monday morning.

“I’m John Hickenlooper, and I’m running for president because we’re facing a crisis that threatens everything we stand for,” the former governor said in the video, over images of President Donald Trump.

The video runs through a series of crises Hickenlooper dealt with as governor, from floods, fires, and drought to the 2012 mass shooting at an Aurora movie theater. “I’ve proven again and again I can bring people together to produce the progressive change Washington has failed to deliver,” he added, pointing to his work addressing those crises, like expanding health care coverage and universal background checks, creating methane emission laws, and boosting job growth in the state.

The campaign will kick off in Civic Center Park in Denver on Thursday.

Hickenlooper, who spent eight years as governor of Colorado before leaving office in January, had been publicly considering a bid for several months, and has spent time in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

In the run up to his formal announcement, he pitched himself as a practical progressive, pointing to his record of accomplishments as governor, including expanding Medicaid and signing into law legislation that requires universal background checks for gun purchases.

“I think an awful lot of people in Congress are great at coming up with visions. They’re great at debating the issues; we need dreamers and debaters,” Hickenlooper said in Iowa last month. “I’m a doer. … I feel like I’m the one person that has actually gotten people together and gotten stuff done.”

Hickenlooper came to politics by way of beer — he was a geologist who opened a brewpub after being laid off, and his business success led to a run for mayor of Denver in 2002. After two terms as mayor, he ran for governor and was elected in 2010. He left office earlier this year, after being term-limited out.

Hickenlooper joins a rapidly expanding field of Democrats seeking to topple Trump in 2020. He may be one of several Western state governors in the field: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced last week, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is considering a bid. And Hickenlooper might even have competition closer to home: Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet is also looking at a run.

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Sherrod Brown Still Thinks He’s The Best Pro-Worker Candidate As He Closes In On A 2020 Campaign For President

FLORENCE, S.C. — Sen. Sherrod Brown is not impressed with his potential 2020 rivals’ efforts to amplify a pro-worker message and said Saturday that he’s been identifying staff in early-voting states to help him scale up quickly if he launches a presidential campaign later this month.

The Ohio Democrat, completing his Dignity of Work listening tour in the state the holds the first primary in the South, also told BuzzFeed News his family is “absolutely on board” with a run.

“There’s no hold-up,” said Brown, who set a March deadline for deciding. “There’s just sort of crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i’ and deciding, are we willing to do all this in this race?”

Brown had said previously that his decision would hinge in part on whether other Democrats were making proper overtures to working-class voters. In recent weeks, at least three announced candidates — Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California, and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — have echoed Brown’s dignity of work message.

“It has surprised us that this many people, including Republicans, that this many people have begun to talk about the dignity of work,” Brown told BuzzFeed News in an interview. “I don’t think they flesh it out well enough yet or extensively enough. I think they mean it. I don’t mean there’s any insincerity in it. But I think we can’t do it enough.”

So does he still believe he’s the best messenger on those issues?

“I think, yes, I carry it better than anybody else because it’s who I am,” Brown added, “and it’s my career, and nobody can question my authenticity or my genuine feel for this.”

The two-day South Carolina trip was the last on his initial foray into the first four primary and caucus states. As during previous visits to Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, a social media team closely circled the senator and the people he met, gathering footage that works not only for Twitter and Instagram but, theoretically, would fit seamlessly into any campaign announcement video. (“I’m Teresa Harper, and I believe in the dignity of work.”)

Brown confirmed to BuzzFeed News that he has been recruiting staff nationally and in these early states. He wouldn’t disclose names of prospective hires but said he’s “totally confident” he’d be able to activate a professional operation on day one, between his existing team of longtime loyalists and new people.

“We knew that if we decided yes that we’d have to have people in place or about to be in place from organizing to fundraising to field to communications,” he said.

He announced previously that Sarah Benzing, his Senate chief of staff, would be his national campaign manager and mentioned how his 2018 reelection campaign manager — Justin Barasky, a veteran of Priorities USA, an organization that backed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign — will remain close to the political operation.

“If we get in,” Brown said, “we’ll run the best campaign.”

South Carolina is a state that could be pivotal to Joe Biden’s chances if the former vice president decides to run. He remains well-liked in the state, and many activists there compare him to Brown because of their similar appeal to working-class voters. Asked by a reporter Friday evening if Biden’s plans had any impact on his own, Brown replied bluntly.

“Zero,” he said, before lightening the mood.

“Between slim and none and slim left town, I don’t know? That’s not my original line.”

His latest trip offered Brown encouragement, but also evidence of a mid- to lower-tier candidate who will need some reaks to break out in a large field of Democrats. An event Friday evening at a hotel in downtown Florence had both. The city’s mayor, Stephen Wukela, enthusiastically endorsed Brown. But about half the crowd was a boys tennis team from North Carolina that had its match rained out and had nothing else better to do. (Some of their teammates were trapped in a malfunctioning hotel elevator while Brown held his meet-and-greet.)

“Listen, I support Sen. Brown,” said Wukela — whose father, like Brown — grew up in Mansfield, Ohio. “I hope he decides to run for president, and I know if he does, he’ll be elected. Sherrod’s my favorite. He is a product of the same kind of politics that I’m a part of, which is Midwest liberalism. It’s a liberalism that is founded in economic issues rather than, frankly, issues of identity.”

Saturday’s agenda brought a breakfast stop at a crowded Florence diner — “Who’s the man in the suit? Is he running for president?” — and a Women’s History Month luncheon speech to the Democratic Women’s Council of Darlington County in Hartsville. And Brown was scheduled later Saturday afternoon to attend an oyster roast with the Dorchester County Democrats in Summerville, north of Charleston. Booker also was scheduled to appear at the event.

There also are signs that Brown is making inroads with the Democratic organizers he meets. Earlier Friday, he attended a house party in Columbia hosted by prominent Democratic activists Don and Carol Fowler. Their home was packed during a torrential afternoon downpour. Don Fowler, a former state party chair and Democratic National Committee national chair, said afterward that he and his wife also have hosted Klobuchar, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, but that Brown had the best connection with his guests.

“This crowd in this weather in the middle of the day is really something,” Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, who is evaluating all of the candidates in anticipation of issuing a potentially influential endorsement, told BuzzFeed News outside the Fowler home. “This is a strong crowd.”

Benjamin said he was impressed with Brown and his wife, nationally syndicated columnist Connie Schultz, as a team.

“He and his wife are a power couple,” the mayor said. “They connect well. A policy wonk with good working-class roots and connections and just has the ability to communicate with every man and woman.”

Schultz continues to show she’s ready to play a big part in a presidential campaign. She introduced her husband at several events this weekend, sticking to a stump speech she has honed carefully over the last month. Brown on Saturday laughed when recalling how his wife used to joke how much she loved being married to the only senator who didn’t look into the mirror every morning and see a president smiling back.

“She said we got to get rid of the mirrors now.”

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Paul Manafort Didn’t Just Ask For Less Prison Time In His Latest Court Filings — He’s Attacking Mueller Too

WASHINGTON — Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort on Friday continued to attack special counsel Robert Mueller, accusing Mueller’s office of not only vilifying him, but also of “spreading misinformation.”

Manafort and his lawyers have used pre-sentencing memos not only to lobby for a lower prison sentence, but also to criticize the special counsel’s office — something they’ve had limited opportunities to do, given a gag order imposed early on. In a sentencing memo filed Friday in Manafort’s case in federal court in Virginia, his lawyers wrote that Mueller had unfairly impugned Manafort’s character.

“The Special Counsel’s attempt to vilify Mr. Manafort as a lifelong and irredeemable felon is beyond the pale and grossly overstates the facts before this Court,” Manafort’s lawyers wrote. “The Special Counsel’s conduct comes as no surprise, and falls within the government’s pattern of spreading misinformation about Mr. Manafort to impugn his character in a manner that this country has not experienced in decades.”

Manafort’s lawyers repeated their claim that Mueller pursued Manafort for crimes largely unrelated to his work on President Donald Trump’s campaign in order to pressure Manafort to flip on the president. Political and legal pundits have speculated that Manafort is angling for a pardon; Trump in November told the New York Post that a pardon for Manafort was not “off the table.”

“The Special Counsel’s strategy in bringing charges against Mr. Manafort had nothing to do with the Special Counsel’s core mandate — Russian collusion — but was instead designed to ‘tighten the screws’ in an effort to compel Mr. Manafort to cooperate and provide incriminating information about others,” his lawyers wrote, quoting language Manafort’s judge in Virginia, US District Judge T.S. Ellis III, had previously used to question the special counsel’s office’s motivations.

Manafort is due for sentencing in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on March 7. Earlier this month, Mueller’s office said in a sentencing memo that it believed Manafort should face a sentencing range of between 19.5 to 24 years in prison. It also wrote that Manafort’s penalty could include a fine of up to $24 million.

Manafort’s lawyers didn’t ask for a specific sentence, but argued in Friday’s filing that the range proposed by Mueller’s office — which the US Probation Office had calculated — was “clearly disproportionate” to the crimes he was convicted of at trial. They asked for a sentence “substantially below” the range “in light of the fact that the defendant is a first-time offender and given the nature of the offenses for which Mr. Manafort was convicted.”

They also argued against “enhancements” that boosted the range proposed by the government — disputing, for instance, that the bank fraud Manafort was found guilty of and the fact that he used offshore accounts meant his crimes were “sophisticated,” and that he was an “organizer or leader” of criminal activity. They said Manafort should get credit for accepting responsibility because he pleaded guilty to crimes in his case in federal court in Washington, DC, that overlapped with his Virginia case, even though he opted to go to trial in Virginia.

Special counsel prosecutors didn’t advocate for a specific sentence, but argued whatever Ellis imposed, it “should reflect the seriousness of these crimes, and serve to both deter Manafort and others from engaging in such conduct.”

“In the end, Manafort acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law, and deprived the federal government and various financial institutions of millions of dollars,” Mueller’s office wrote.

Parts of Manafort’s latest sentencing memo echoed the memo he filed Monday in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. His lawyers again presented him as a devoted husband, father, and friend, and a successful political consultant who had advised multiple presidential campaigns. They also noted the physical and emotional toll that months in pretrial detention had taken on Manafort, and again pointed out that some courts had given defendants with serious medical conditions no prison time.

“Given the severe damage to his professional reputation and the enormous investigative efforts of the Special Counsel to examine every aspect of his life, he poses no future risk to the public of reoffending and specific deterrence for a soon-to-be septuagenarian is not necessary under these circumstances,” his lawyers wrote.

A federal jury in Virginia found Manafort guilty of eight counts following a trial last summer — five counts of filing false income tax returns, one count of failing to report foreign bank accounts, and two counts of bank fraud. The jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the remaining 10 charges, and the judge declared a mistrial on those counts. Although prosecutors failed to win on all counts, the jury did find Manafort guilty in all three categories of crimes he was charged with.

Manafort was set to go to trial on a separate set of charges in DC soon after the Virginia trial ended, but he took a deal instead. In September, he pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States through a range of financial crimes, and conspiring to tamper with witnesses. He is due for sentencing in DC the week after he’s sentenced in Virginia, March 13. In that case, neither side has advocated for a specific sentence — prosecutors have argued for a harsh penalty, while Manafort asked for leniency. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

Both of Manafort’s judges can consider the nearly nine months Manafort has already spent in jail. Jackson ordered him held pending trial in June 2018 after prosecutors raised new allegations that Manafort tried to interfere with potential witnesses.

Since Ellis is sentencing Manafort first, he won’t have the benefit of knowing how Jackson handled things, but he can consider her finding earlier this month that prosecutors proved Manafort lied to investigators and the grand jury after signing his plea deal.

Several hours before filing their sentencing memo Friday, Manafort’s lawyers filed a report alerting Ellis about new developments related to the plea deal breach issue in DC. This week, prosecutors filed a heavily redacted document indicating they’d gotten new information from Rick Gates — Manafort’s former right-hand man and a former senior official on Trump’s campaign — that conflicted with information they gave Jackson.

The information Gates came forward with related to false information prosecutors said Manafort provided about the nature of his communications with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian Ukrainian and longtime associate of Manafort whom prosecutors say had ties to Russian intelligence (Kilimnik has denied that). Kilimnik was charged as a codefendant with Manafort in his DC case, but has never appeared in court.

The substance of whatever Gates told prosecutors is redacted, but Jackson on Thursday ordered a correction to the record about “an inaccurate description of an individual or individuals.” On Friday, she ruled that the new information did not change her conclusion that Manafort had lied about his contacts with Kilimnik. Manafort’s lawyers wrote to Ellis that they saw this new information as helpful to Manafort in the assessment of whether he lied, and asked the judge to take note.

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Jay Inslee Is Running For President As The Climate Candidate

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee announced on Friday he’s running for president, pitching himself as the best candidate to tackle the worsening climate crisis.

“I’m Jay Inslee and I’m running for president because I’m the only candidate who will make defeating climate change our nation’s number one priority,” the governor said in an announcement video that is exclusively about climate change, running through comments he’s made on the issue going back years.

Inslee will kick off a “Climate Mission Tour” in Iowa next Tuesday.

Inslee is joining a crowded field of 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, but he’s the only candidate to join the race so far with such a tight focus on a single issue. Other Democratic hopefuls have made preventing the worst impacts of man-made climate change a goal of their campaigns — and one that sharply contrasts President Donald Trump’s denial of the science — but Inslee is trying to differentiate himself by making it his primary focus.

The governor’s campaign may be well timed. More Americans are concerned about climate change than ever, with about 7 in 10 of people saying they are “somewhat worried” about global warming, according to a polling results released January by climate communication experts at Yale University and George Mason University.

The poll found nearly half of Americans believe climate change is harming the US right now. A major federal climate report released last November, called the Fourth National Climate Assessment, concluded climate impacts are playing out across the US, from damaging wildfires to increased heavy rain and flooding to rising seas.

“We’re the first generation to feel the sting of climate change. And we’re the last who can do something about it,” Inslee said in his launch video. “This crisis isn’t just a chart or graph anymore. The impacts are being felt everywhere.”

During his latest state-of-the-state speech, he called for Washington state to transition from fossil fuels to running on 100% clean electricity, retrofitting buildings to more energy efficient, and more.

His presidential campaign laid out four principles of its “Climate Mission” on its new site: “Powering our economy with clean energy,” “investing in good jobs, infrastructure & innovation,” “fighting for environmental justice &economic inclusion,” and “ending fossil fuel giveaways.”

Inslee has a long track record of proposing climate policies in the state, but the results are mixed. Under his watch, Washington has offered discounts to state employees looking to buy electric vehicles, supported the construction of local electric vehicle charging stations, and set goals to boost the number of electric vehicles on state roads.

But he’s unsuccessfully proposed a carbon tax bill in 2018 and 2017, as well as a cap and trade proposal in 2014. (Washington voters have also failed to pass a carbon tax ballot initiative twice, including in the 2018 midterms.)

Prior to becoming governor, Inslee worked on climate legislation in the U.S. House, and he co-wrote the book, “Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy.”

With Trump in the White House questioning climate change and rolling back climate policies, Inslee has been among the most vocal state leaders criticizing the administration. When Trump vowed to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement in June 2017, for example, Inslee helped found the US Climate Alliance, the bipartisan governor’s group committed to the global agreement.

Inslee’s focus on climate change has won him the support of former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, who shared a DC apartment with Inslee when both served in the House. Strickland told BuzzFeed News this week that he planned to back Inslee “very enthusiastically” if he runs. Strickland is one of few Democrats to win statewide in Ohio in the last 15 years and remains plugged into party activists there. His endorsement could come at another successful Ohio Democrat’s expense — Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is considering a run.

“That doesn’t mean I couldn’t support others,” Strickland said. But he added of Inslee: “I know this guy. I know his values. He is focusing on what I would consider the greatest threat to humankind — the threat to the climate.”

Several of the bigger-name candidates running in the Democratic primary have strong environmental records. When analyzed on their 2018 environmental voting records by the League of Conservation Voters, Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris from California, Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, Cory Booker from New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand from New York, and Bernie Sanders from Vermont all scored 100%.

These six, who are in various stages of running for president, were also co-sponsors of the recently proposed Green New Deal resolution, calling for a plan that intended to simultaneously boost the economy with new green projects and help reduce poverty and social injustice.

After the Green New Deal resolution came out, Inslee said he was “thrilled” with it, adding: “[t]his is a clarion call to action from Congress, and now we need that same call from the White House.”

In his campaign launch video, Inslee outlines some of his own bold goals for the country: “We have an opportunity to transform our economy, run on 100% clean energy, that will bring millions of good paying jobs to every community across America, and create a more just future for everyone.”

Inslee is one of the few presidential hopefuls so far to sign the no fossil fuel money pledge, agreeing to “not knowingly accept any contributions over $200 from the PACs, executives, or front groups of fossil fuel companies — companies whose primary business is the extraction, processing, distribution, or sale of oil, gas, or coal.” (Sanders and Warren have also signed the pledge.)

“I’m excited to see Gov. Inslee get into the race. He’s obviously a climate hawk with some real world experience working on the issue, and is making climate central to his campaign,” RL Miller, cofounder of the Climate Hawks Vote, a group in the no fossil fuel pledge campaign, told BuzzFeed News in an email. “All of the leading candidates have signaled an interest in climate, and I’m looking forward to hearing how they will differentiate their positions.”

Additional reporting contributed by Henry J. Gomez

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Joe Biden’s Waiting Out His 2020 Decision In Comfort

If there’s any clue to what Joe Biden might decide as he once again wrestles very publicly with a run for president, consider how he spent the last 10 days.

The former vice president held conversations: One last week at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, another Tuesday at the University of Delaware’s newly named Joseph R. Biden Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration. On Thursday, he helped Chuck Hagel, an old pal and fellow Obama administration alum, launch a leadership forum at the University of Nebraska Omaha. (That event wasn’t promoted as a conversation like the others were, but a Q&A featuring questions submitted by students in advance made for a mild afternoon.)

Biden, 76, is sticking to safe, friendly, and predictable ground at a time when the 2020 presidential race offers none of that. In an already crowded Democratic primary field that may be most favorable to newer voices on the left, Biden’s nostalgia for the not-so-long-ago days of bipartisanship — Hagel is a Republican — is an awkward fit. And don’t think he doesn’t know it.

The “alleged appeal that I have, how deep does it run?” Biden wondered aloud Tuesday at the Biden School, winding through a long answer to a question about his plans. “Is it real?”

For that conversation, Biden was supposed to be the interviewer. Author Jon Meacham had come to promote his book — a Biden favorite. But the two spent nearly 90 minutes in a sort of tandem history lecture, with Meacham ultimately unable to resist asking Biden about 2020. Biden’s response betrayed a self-awareness that times have changed, that the political moment may have passed him by. He told Meacham he wouldn’t want to embark on a “fool’s errand.” As evidenced by the deliberations over his “appeal,” Biden, who leads Democrats in early polls, is skeptical of how far he can get with the electability argument that provides a rationale to run.

“Some people say he may be afraid of losing,” Ted Strickland, the Democratic former governor of Ohio and a Biden friend, told BuzzFeed News. “That’s always a possibility, I guess.”

Strickland said he hasn’t heard from Biden recently and plans to support Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, another longtime friend, for president if he decides to run. But Strickland also believes Biden will run and thinks he should, viewing him as one of the most capable foreign policy experts available.

“He’s a good, decent human being,” Strickland said. “What I’ve been saying to my friends who ask about his possible candidacy is that I think Joe Biden is the single best person to repair our frayed international relationships. I think he would bring a calm and reassurance.”

That was the topic — “the Role of US Leadership in a Changing World” — of Biden’s speech Thursday at the inaugural Chuck Hagel Forum in Global Leadership. It marked the closest Biden has been to one of the early-voting states since last year’s midterm elections. (Omaha is just across the border from Iowa.)

Someone’s cell phone rang out early in Biden’s remarks. “That’s President Trump calling me,” he joked. “Tell him I’m busy, but I’m happy to help.”

Biden used the appearance to explicitly criticize Trump’s foreign policy as a stain on the country’s reputation abroad, noting that the president has accepted “the words of dictators and thugs” over US intelligence. Asked during the Q&A about Trump’s denuclearization talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un falling apart earlier in the day, Biden said he hoped that the president “has learned a really important lesson. Diplomacy matters. Preparation matters.”

But Biden also went out of his way to project bipartisanship, at one point calling Vice President Mike Pence, his successor and an ideological conservative reviled on the left for his positions on LGBT rights, a “decent guy.”

There were no opportunities during Thursday’s tightly controlled Q&A session — which became storytime for Biden and Hagel — to press Biden on his praise for Pence, the kind of sound-bite that could haunt him in a primary. But the criticism on Twitter came fast, pushing Biden to respond after the event, something he typically hasn’t been so willing to quickly do.

That ties back to Biden contemplating if and where he would fit in the Democrats’ 2020 field. Speaking to crowds amid a sprawling primary campaign is high-pressure and risky when you don’t know exactly what you’re going to say next; it’s a relatively comfortable exercise when you’re giving paid speeches or pontificating from emeritus-like perches in academia. On stage for programs in his or his friend’s names, he doesn’t have to worry about questions about how he treated Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearings. He doesn’t have to answer for his crime bill or any other vote that hasn’t aged well with the Democratic base since his long Senate career.

And, so far, Biden has shown no appetite for anything but a soft launch. Behind the scenes, there are reports that he’s trying to staff up in the early-voting states, but party leaders there haven’t heard a whole lot from him. As it stands, Biden’s first political activity of 2019 is set for March 16, smack dab in his comfort zone: a dinner for home-state Democrats in Delaware.

The state’s party chair spoke of Biden reverentially this week when announcing Biden’s keynote speech. “If there’s a singular theme that runs through our party platform, it’s that we’re the party of the people, that together we can accomplish great things if everybody just has a fair shot,” said Erik Raser-Schramm. “That’s how Joe Biden has led and I can’t think of a better person to inspire us to undertake the hard work that lies ahead.”

Whether he will inspire them as a candidate or as a party elder remains a mystery — and one unlikely to be solved that night. A source close to Biden said not to expect a 2020 decision then.

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