‘Miracle’ weight-loss drugs could have reduced health disparities. Instead they got worse

Los Angeles Times

‘Miracle’ weight-loss drugs could have reduced health disparities. Instead they got worse

Karen Kaplan – April 16, 2024

Donna Cooper holds up a dose of Wegovy, a drug used for weight loss.
Wegovy is part of a new generation of weight-loss medications that made some doctors optimistic about reversing longstanding racial and ethnic disparities in obesity. So far, the pricey drugs seem to have made those disparities worse. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades / Associated Press)

For the record:
9:10 p.m. April 15, 2024An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Dr. Serena Jingchuan Guo of the University of Florida as Jigchuan.

The American Heart Assn. calls them “game changers.”

Oprah Winfrey says they’re “a gift.”

Science magazine anointed them the “2023 Breakthrough of the Year.”

Americans are most familiar with their brand names: Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro, Zepbound. They are the medications that have revolutionized weight loss and raised the possibility of reversing the country’s obesity crisis.

Obesity — like so many diseases — disproportionately affects people in racial and ethnic groups that have been marginalized by the U.S. healthcare system. A class of drugs that succeeds where so many others have failed would seem to be a powerful tool for closing the gap.

Instead, doctors who treat obesity, and the serious health risks that come with it, fear the medications are making this health disparity worse.

“These patients have a higher burden of disease, and they’re less likely to get the medicine that can save their lives,” said Dr. Lauren Eberly, a cardiologist and health services researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. “I feel like if a group of patients has a disproportionate burden, they should have increased access to these medicines.”

Why don’t they? Experts say there are a multitude of reasons, but the primary one is cost.

The injectable drug Ozempic sparked a revolution in obesity care.
The injectable drug Ozempic sparked a revolution in obesity care. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

Ozempic, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to help people with Type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar and reduce their risk of serious cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and strokes, has a list price of $968.52 for a 28-day supplyWegovy, a higher dose of the same medicine that’s FDA-approved for weight loss in people with obesity or who are overweight and have a weight-related condition such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, goes for $1,349.02 every four weeks.

Mounjaro is a similar drug approved by the FDA to improve blood sugar levels in Type 2 diabetes patients, and it comes with a list price of $1,069.08 for 28 days of medicineZepbound, a version of the same drug approved for weight loss, has a slightly lower price tag of $1,059.87 per 28 days. For now, at least, all the new drugs are meant to be taken indefinitely.

Read more: The new beauty regimen: Lose weight with Ozempic, tighten up with cosmetic surgery

Few health insurance programs cover the medications when prescribed to help people reach and maintain a healthy weight. Federal law requires that weight loss drugs be excluded from basic coverage in Medicare Part D plans, and as of early 2023, only 10 states included an antiobesity medication in the formularies for their Medicaid programs.

“If everybody had equal access, then this would be a way to help,” said Dr. Rocio Pereira, chief of endocrinology at Denver Health. “But without equal access — which is what we have now — it’s likely this is going to increase the disparity we see.”

U.S. obesity rates have been rising for decades, and they’re consistently higher for Black and Latino Americans. Among adults 20 and older, 49.9% of Black Americans and 45.6% of Hispanic Americans have a body mass index of 30 or greater, compared with 41.1% of white American adults and 16.1% of Asian American adults, according to age-adjusted data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Obesity rates are also associated with income. In 2022, the age-adjusted rate was 38.4% for adults with household incomes between $15,000 and $24,999, compared with 34.1% for those with household incomes of $75,000 or more.

The two are related, said Pereira, who studies health disparities in diseases related to obesity. Black and Latino Americans are more likely to live in lower-income neighborhoods, where fast food is usually cheaper and more convenient than grocery stores.

“If you look at a map of the U.S. and plot out the neighborhoods where there’s no grocery store within a mile and there’s a high percentage of people who have no car, those are the areas where there’s the highest rates of obesity,” she said.

There’s also the time factor, she said: “Can you afford to cook your own meals, or do you have to work two jobs?”

An unusual experiment by the Department of Housing and Urban Development demonstrated the degree to which physical surroundings can influence obesity risk, Pereira said. In the 1990s, hundreds of mothers who were living in public housing were offered housing vouchers they could use only in wealthier neighborhoods. Ten to 15 years later, the women randomly assigned to receive the windfall had significantly lower rates of severe obesity (14.4%) than women in a control group who weren’t offered vouchers (17.7%). They were also less likely to have a body mass index of 35 or higher (31.1% vs. 35.5%).

Two obese women talk in New York.
Two women talk in New York. (Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

The American Medical Assn. recognized obesity as a disease in 2013. People with the chronic condition are at heightened risk of cardiovascular diseaseType 2 diabetes, 13 types of cancer, osteoarthritis, asthma and other health problems. Researchers have pegged the annual medical costs associated with obesity at $174 billion in the U.S. alone.

Some people with obesity are able to lose weight by changing their diets and burning more calories through exercise. But that doesn’t work for people who have developed resistance to leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite.

“If you try to lose weight with diet and exercise, your body is going to fight you,” said Dr. Caroline Apovian, co-director of the Center for Weight Management and Wellness at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “Your leptin levels go down, and when leptin goes down, a signal goes to the brain that you don’t have enough fat to survive.” That prompts the release of another hormone, ghrelin, that triggers feelings of hunger.

Read more: Ozempic overdose? Poison control experts explain why thousands OD’d this year

Leptin resistance also makes exercise less worthwhile.

“Your body fights you by decreasing your total energy expenditure,” Apovian said. “When your muscles work, they work more efficiently. If you want to lose 10 pounds, you’re going to get really, really hungry. And you can’t fight that. Your body thinks it’s starving to death.”

The “breakthrough” drugs counteract this by impersonating a hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1, or GLP-1, that’s involved in appetite regulation. Inside cells, the drugs bind with the same receptors as GLP-1, reducing blood sugar and slowing digestion. They also last longer than their natural counterparts.

Oprah Winfrey walks onstage during the 55th NAACP Image Awards in March
Oprah Winfrey credits the new generation of medications for helping her keep her weight under control. (Chris Pizzello / Associated Press)

The first so-called GLP-1 receptor agonist was approved in 2005 to treat diabetes, and early versions had to be injected once or twice a day. Ozempic improved on this by requiring an injection only once a week. After clinical trials showed that the drug helped people with obesity achieve substantial, sustainable weight loss, the FDA approved Wegovy as a weight management drug in 2021.

Mounjaro and Zepbound also mimic GLP-1, along with a related hormone called glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide, or GIP.

Read more: Ozempic rehashed the fierceness of diet culture and body shaming in Latinx culture

Linda Morales credits Ozempic and Mounjaro for helping her lose 100 pounds and drop from a size 22 to a size 14. The 25-year-old instructional aide at Lankershim Elementary School in North Hollywood said she started to become overweight in middle school and carried 293 pounds on her 5-foot, 5-inch frame when she was referred to the Center for Weight Management and Metabolic Health at Cedars-Sinai two years ago.

She is no longer breathless when she climbs stairs, has an easier time when she goes bowling and fits comfortably into the seat on the Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios. Thanks to the medications, she is no longer on a path toward Type 2 diabetes.

Her job with the Los Angeles Unified School District comes with health insurance that covers the pricey drugs and charges her a copay of $30 a month for her Mounjaro prescription. She said she could swing a monthly payment of up to $50, but beyond that she’d have to stop taking the drug and hope the lifestyle changes she’d made would be enough to sustain the weight loss she’s achieved so far.

“It would definitely get hard for me, for sure,” Morales said.

Indeed, even when the drugs are covered by insurance or patients qualify for discounts from pharmaceutical companies, researchers have found that they often remain out of reach.

In one study, Eberly and her colleagues examined insurance claims for nearly 40,000 people who received a prescription for GLP-1 copycats. Patients who had to pay at least $50 a month to fill their prescriptions were 53% less likely to get most of their refills over the course of a year compared to patients whose copayments were less than $10. Even patients whose out-of-pocket costs were between $10 and $50 were 38% less likely to buy the medicine regularly for a full year, the team found.

In another study of insured patients with Type 2 diabetes, those who were Black were 19% less likely to be treated with these drugs than those who were white, while Latino patients were 9% less likely to get them, Eberly and her colleagues reported.

Read more: Forget gym memberships. Employees want Ozempic in their benefits packages

In some parts of the country, Black patients with diabetes are only half as likely as white patients to get GLP-1 drugs, according to research by Dr. Serena Jingchuan Guo at the University of Florida, who studies health disparities in pharmaceutical access. The disparity was greatest in places with the highest overall usage of the medications, including New York, Silicon Valley and south Florida.

“In those places, the drug is actually widening the gap,” she said.

Researchers have spent years documenting racial disparities in the use of effective treatments for obesity, such as bariatric surgery. Newer drugs such as Ozempic simply bring the problem into sharper focus, said Dr. Hamlet Gasoyan, an investigator with the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Value-Based Care Research.

“We get excited every time a new, effective treatment becomes available,” Gasoyan said. “But we should be equally concerned that this new and effective treatment reduces disparities between the haves and have-nots.”

Former GOP insider: Trump has “reprogrammed a generation” to fight against democracy

Salon

Former GOP insider: Trump has “reprogrammed a generation” to fight against democracy

Chauncey DeVega – April 16, 2024

Capitol Riot; Trump Supporters Nathan Howard/Getty Images
Capitol Riot; Trump Supporters Nathan Howard/Getty Images

The first of Donald Trump’s four criminal trials is finally underway in Manhattan. This trial, on campaign-finance charges related to Trump’s alleged “hush money” payments to Stormy Daniels, is truly historic, marking the first time in American history that a current or former president has been tried for criminal offenses.

A guilty verdict in combination with the outcomes of his three other pending trials in Florida, Georgia and Washington, D.C., will clearly have an impact on how many Americans vote in the upcoming presidential election. The potential consequences should not be underestimated, given that current polls show a statistical dead heat between Trump and President Biden.

In an evocative preview published by the Economist, the “hush money” trial is described as a “meld of genres”:

The solemnity of the first prosecution of a former president, who also happens to be running again, will nod to tragedy. Really, though, this is a seedy burlesque, with a bit of farce. The case is about sex, money and blackmail. Mr. Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, who will testify against him, once described the conduct at issue as the “filth and muck of politics”…. Every trial is part theatre. This one, slated to run for six to eight weeks (beginning with jury selection), will be a sell-out.

Trump’s criminal trials are historic in other ways as well: They seem to echo the lessons of one of the most dreadful chapters in modern history. In 1923, Adolf Hitler was sentenced to five years in prison for an attempted coup (known as the Beer Hall Putsch) against the state government of Bavaria. He served less than one year, using the time to write the first volume of “Mein Kampf.” After his release, of course, Hitler continued his rise to power, becoming the de facto dictator of Germany less than 10 years later.

Donald Trump has already attempted one coup, and the American people were fortunate that it failed. He has never disavowed the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and, not unlike Hitler, continues to threaten violence (including imprisonment and execution for “treason”) against anyone and everyone who oppose him and the MAGA movement.

If Trump is actually sent to prison, the MAGA movement will likely be blunted, if not broken. American democracy and the might then be able to avoid the fate that befell Germany 90 or so years ago.

Miles Taylor served as chief of staff in the Department of Homeland Security during Trump’s first term. He spoke out early about Trump’s unfitness for office, as author of the 2018 New York Times “Anonymous” editorial. Since then, Taylor has written two books, “A Warning” and “Blowback: A Warning to Save Democracy from Trump’s Revenge.” His new paperback edition of “Blowback” has just been published, incorporating an argument that Trump’s second administration will be far more competent and formidable in its assault on American democracy and the rule of law than the first one was.

In the second half of our conversation, Taylor cautions that the existential danger to American democracy posed by Trump, the MAGA movement, and today’s Republican Party will continue well past Election Day 2024. The American people still have the power and agency to defeat those forces, Taylor says, but only if they shake off complacency and apathy and act to defend democracy and freedom — not just at the ballot box but throughout our society.

This is the second installment of a two-part conversation.

How do you assess Donald Trump and his MAGA movement’s danger to the safety and future of the country and our pluralistic democracy?

Look, I’m still a conservative. This isn’t about a Republican coming to the White House. I don’t even think Trump is a real Republican. It’s about a man who’s said he wants to use government as a tool of revenge — and to advance his own self-interest. That sort of intent — sitting atop the spy agencies and military apparatus of the government — writes its own horror story.

How do we locate Donald Trump and the American authoritarian movement as part of a larger global movement to end democracy, which also includes Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orbán, and other malign actors?

They are one and the same — reactions to populism. This is where I’ll say that the culprits here aren’t actually the autocrats themselves. It’s us. We’re choosing to empower these people. We can choose not to. The choice we make will define us.

Why do you think the news media and political elites haven’t made the global dimension of this threat to our democracy much clearer?

Attacks on Western democracy from within were not on my bingo card post-9/11. I fear the wayward ex-president will get his way eventually in trying to chip away at the community of democracies. He needn’t win back the White House to execute his vision. Trump has done something more insidious. By co-opting the Republican Party, he has reprogrammed a generation of devotees with his anti-constitutional and anti-democratic views. Copycats will try to fulfill his unfinished plans well beyond his lifespan, an undertaking made possible because GOP leaders have anesthetized their consciences and normalized Trump-like conduct for a decade.

If Trump is defeated this November, will the danger of right-wing political violence decrease? Many experts are concerned that a defeat on Election Day will only amplify the danger from Trump and his followers.

I’ll put it simply. Whether Trump wins or loses, the risk of political violence is high. If he loses, it will likely be far worse than Jan. 6. If he wins, I fear there will be a violent reaction around the country from the far left — a reaction that Trump will use to “justify” a crackdown. Thus, the spiral will begin. There’s no magic wand that can prevent this. We just need to show restraint, urge our neighbors to do the same and condemn political extremism.

Looking back, do you have any regrets about your time in the administration and how you chose to speak out? What do you know now that you wish you knew then?

Six years ago, I sounded an alarm that the sitting president was acting in a way that was “amoral” and “reckless” behind the scenes and that his own staff thought he posed a grave threat to the country. Many people dismissed me and believed Trump’s accusation that I was being disloyal.

Five years ago, I wrote a book about the deeper extent of instability inside the White House and why re-electing Trump could be catastrophic. Many people dismissed me and believed Trump’s claim that it was a “make-believe book” of “deep state” lies.

Four years ago, during the 2020 campaign, I said that if Trump lost, he would try to stay in office, a situation that could end “tragically.” Many people dismissed me and believed the claims of Trump’s acolytes that he’d do the right thing when the time came.

Three years ago, I assembled GOP dissenters to warn that Trumpism maintained a “viselike grip” on the party and that the anti-constitutional wing would overtake it completely if preventive action wasn’t taken. Many people dismissed me and said the GOP would move on from Trump.

Two years ago, I predicted that Trump would run again for the presidency and would likely lead the GOP field. Many people dismissed me and said Trump would be taken out by the courts first.

Last year, I released this book to explain in precise detail what would happen if Trump or another MAGA figure retook the White House, including the specific ways they would weaponize American government against their foes.

My goal here isn’t to prove that I’m prescient. Nor do I think I should be applauded because predictions about a dangerous man and his mob-like movement keep coming to fruition. What I’ve been saying for years about deeper threats to the American experiment should have been painfully obvious to almost anyone who’s paying attention. Yet far too many Americans are imperiling the future once more by ignoring the clanging and rattling truth that could cause the entire country to come undone.

What do you think will happen next? Where are we in the story of the Trumpocene?

First, I say in the book that America’s survival as the United States is not inevitable, but its demise will become a certainty if we continue down our current path. No free system of government can survive the willful ignorance of its people. But I’m not a fatalist; if I were, I wouldn’t have written this book or spent my life trying to protect our country. In fact, I am an optimist about the trajectory of free societies like our own. A democracy is a living thing. Like most living things, it will fight for its survival by exhausting all available possibilities for persistence, though a spirited effort might not be visible until it’s in mortal danger. That hour will be upon us soon.

Second, I note that America can survive the century if we renegotiate our social contract. By that I mean we should examine the underpinnings of our polity together — from the actual ways we vote and mechanisms for spurring political competition to the very Constitution that binds us. Although it may seem impracticable, a renegotiation will look more appealing in the decades ahead of us, more so, I suspect, in the face of genuine hardship. A people so divided cannot continue forward without addressing their divisions openly; otherwise, they should peaceably separate, or spiral toward a violent end.

Thankfully, we are blessed by nature with a say in the matter. Destiny is manifested by decision. So what happens next will depend on our collective willpower as a country and our resolve to eschew the dread of indecision. On that point I feel hopeful, because every guiding milestone we’ve placed on humankind’s trail has been put there by choice. And we can do so once again at a moment of our choosing.

What can the American people do to stop the bureaucrats, advisers and others who will try to orchestrate the Trump dictatorship if he wins this election?

The choice is ours, as it has always been. The founders saw America as an experiment, dependent entirely on our conscious efforts to sustain it and not on preordainment. Some readers will lament these grim forecasts while they loiter in the shadows, contorting logic to justify to themselves why their silence is an exception to the need for all Americans to admit the seriousness of our situation. To those readers I say: I don’t judge you. I’ve been you. I’ve made excuses for staying quiet. But companionship won’t save you from the consequences.

Fewer citizens will make the harder choice. Those who do will start defying their political tribes by calling for civility; they will resist intimidation and reject the moral equivalency crawling into our political discourse; they will put country over party by advocating for system-wide reforms to make our democracy more representative of all views and less prone to upheaval; and they will openly evangelize — through trial and error — the small rituals of civic faith that can restore a democracy. If this is you, then I believe you are America’s last, best hope.

Biden to close ‘gun-show loophole’ and expand background checks for firearms

Politico

Biden to close ‘gun-show loophole’ and expand background checks for firearms

Myah Ward – April 11, 2024

“This single gap in our federal background check system has caused unimaginable pain and suffering,” Vice President Kamala Harris said on the call. | Alex Wong/Getty Images (Alex Wong via Getty Images)

The Biden administration is moving to expand background checks for gun purchases, fulfilling a key demand of advocates following the deadly shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas.

The final rule, expected to be submitted Thursday to the Federal Register by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, would eliminate a loophole that has allowed sales of guns without background checks of guns outside of brick-and-mortar stores.

The rule was issued under a provision of the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. It requires that anyone who sells guns for profit to have a license and that buyers be subject to a background check, including at firearms shows and flea markets. The administration had been working on the rule since last spring. Once publicized, it will take effect in 30 days.

The so-called gun show loophole has for years allowed unlicensed gun dealers to sell firearms without background checks at gun shows, on the internet and out of their homes. The new rule, the most sweeping expansion of firearms background checks in decades, will apply to more than 20,000 individuals engaged in unlicensed gun dealing and affect “tens and tens of thousands of gun sales” each year, an administration official told reporters during a call previewing the announcement.

“This single gap in our federal background check system has caused unimaginable pain and suffering,” Vice President Kamala Harris said on the call.

The vice president noted the 25th anniversary next week of the mass shooting at Columbine High School, which was carried out with weapons purchased through the gun-show loophole. She also pointed to the 2019 shooting in Midland and Odessa, Texas, where a man killed seven people and wounded dozens of others. A background check stopped the shooter from purchasing a gun at a sporting goods store in 2014, but he later purchased an AR-15 from an unlicensed seller he met online.

“So many communities have been torn apart by acts of violence committed with weapons bought without background checks,” she continued. “So in the memory of all those we have lost today, as the head of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, I am proud to announce that all gun dealers now must conduct background checks no matter where or how they sell their merchandise.”

After Congress passed the gun safety legislation in June 2022 following a shooting in Uvalde, Texas, gun safety groups have pushed the White House to use it to expand background checks by clarifying which entities are considered “engaged in the business” of selling firearms. Doing so would not fulfill the president’s plea for universal background checks, as it would not apply to all sales, including private transfers. But the rule’s publication still marks a step forward in the administration’s more incremental efforts to regulate gun sales through implementation of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

“We know this doesn’t get all the way there. And this law can only do so much. And it’s why the president is firm that the Congress needs to finish this job and make sure that we have background checks on all gun sales,” an administration official said.

The final rule comes a year after the president issued an executive order directing Attorney General Merrick Garland to develop and implement a plan to clarify the definition of “engaged in business.” The Department of Justice issued the proposed rule in September. The administration has also made an effort to release previously undisclosed firearms data, offering a fuller picture of the illegal firearms market in the U.S.

An analysis published last week from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found sales by unlicensed dealers were the most frequently used gun trafficking channel. From 2017 to 2021, the ATF traced more than 68,000 of these illegally tracked firearms to unlicensed dealers.

“Today’s Final Rule is about ensuring compliance with an important area of the existing law where we all know, the data show, and we can clearly see that a whole group of folks are openly flouting that law. That leads to not just unfair but, in this case, dangerous consequences,” said ATF director Steven Dettelbach.

Vietnam handles it’s fraudsters: Is America listening? Vietnam sentences real estate tycoon Truong My Lan to death in its largest-ever fraud case

Associated Press

Vietnam sentences real estate tycoon Truong My Lan to death in its largest-ever fraud case

Aniruddha Ghosal – April 11, 2024

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Real estate tycoon Truong My Lan was sentenced Thursday to death by a court in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam in the country’s largest financial fraud case ever, state media Vietnam Net said.

The 67-year-old chair of the real estate company Van Thinh Phat was formally charged with fraud amounting to $12.5 billion — nearly 3% of the country’s 2022 GDP.

Lan illegally controlled Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank between 2012 and 2022 and allowed 2,500 loans that resulted in losses of $27 billion to the bank, reported state media VnExpress. The court asked her to compensate the bank $26.9 million.

Despite mitigating circumstances — this was a first-time offense and Lan participated in charity activities — the court attributed its harsh sentence to the seriousness of the case, saying Lan was at the helm of an orchestrated and sophisticated criminal enterprise that had serious consequences with no possibility of the money being recovered, VnExpress said.

Her actions “not only violate the property management rights of individuals and organizations but also push SCB (Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank) into a state of special control; eroding people’s trust in the leadership of the Party and State,” VnExpress quoted the judgement as saying.

Her niece, Truong Hue Van, the chief executive of Van Thinh Phat, was sentenced to 17 years in prison for aiding her aunt.

Lan and her family established the Van Thing Phat company in 1992 after Vietnam shed its state-run economy in favor of a more market-oriented approach that was open to foreigners. She had started out helping her mother, a Chinese businesswoman, to sell cosmetics in Ho Chi Minh City’s oldest market, according to state media Tien Phong.

Van Thinh Phat would grow to become one of Vietnam’s richest real estate firms, with projects including luxury residential buildings, offices, hotels and shopping centers. This made her a key player in the country’s financial industry. She orchestrated the 2011 merger of the beleaguered SCB bank with two other lenders in coordination with Vietnam’s central bank.

The court found that she used this approach to tap SCB for cash. She indirectly owned more than 90% of the bank — a charge she denied — and approved thousands of loans to “ghost companies,” according to government documents. These loans then found their way back to her, state media VNExpress reported, citing the court’s findings.

She then bribed officials to cover her tracks, it added.

Former central bank official Do Thi Nhan was also sentenced Thursday to life in prison for accepting $5.2 million in bribes.

Lan’s arrest in October 2022 was among the most high-profile in an ongoing anti-corruption drive in Vietnam that has intensified since 2022. The so-called Blazing Furnace campaign has touched the highest echelons of Vietnamese politics. Former President Vo Van Thuong resigned in March after being implicated in the campaign.

But Lan’s trial shocked the nation. Analysts said the scale of the scam raised questions about whether other banks or businesses had similarly erred, dampening Vietnam’s economic outlook and making foreign investors jittery at a time when Vietnam has been trying to position itself as the ideal home for businesses trying to pivot their supply chains away from China.

The real estate sector in Vietnam has been hit particularly hard. An estimated 1,300 property firms withdrew from the market in 2023, developers have been offering discounts and gold as gifts to attract buyers, and despite rents for mixed-use properties known in Southeast Asia as shophouses falling by a third in Ho Chi Minh City, many in the city center are still empty, according to state media.

In November, Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Vietnam’s top politician, said that the anti-corruption fight would “continue for the long term.”

Trump Allies Have a Plan to Hurt Biden’s Chances: Elevate Outsider Candidates

The New York Times

Trump Allies Have a Plan to Hurt Biden’s Chances: Elevate Outsider Candidates

Jonathan Swan, Maggie Haberman, Shane Goldmacher and Rebecca Davis O’Brien – April 10, 2024

Two Skyhorse Publishing titles by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a Democrat running for president, in the office of the company’s founder, Tony Lyons, in New York, Aug. 10, 2023. (Jeenah Moon/The New York Times)
Two Skyhorse Publishing titles by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a Democrat running for president, in the office of the company’s founder, Tony Lyons, in New York, Aug. 10, 2023. (Jeenah Moon/The New York Times)

Allies of former President Donald Trump are discussing ways to elevate third-party candidates in battleground states to divert votes away from President Joe Biden, along with other covert tactics to diminish Democratic votes.

They plan to promote independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as a “champion for choice” to give voters for whom abortion is a top issue — and who also don’t like Biden — another option on the ballot, according to one person who is involved in the effort and who, like several others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the plans.

Trump allies also plan to amplify the progressive environmental records of Kennedy and expected Green Party candidate Jill Stein in key states — contrasting their policies against the record-high oil production under Biden that has disappointed some climate activists.

A third parallel effort in Michigan is meant to diminish Democratic turnout in November by amplifying Muslim voters’ concerns about Biden’s support for Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip. Trump allies are discussing running ads in Dearborn, Michigan, and other parts of the state with large Muslim populations that would thank Biden for standing with Israel, according to three people familiar with the effort, which is expected to be led by an outside group unaffiliated with the Trump campaign.

Many of these third-party-boosting efforts will probably be run out of dark-money entities that are loosely supportive of Trump. Both the Trump campaign and the main super political action committee supporting the former president, MAGA Inc., are already aggressively framing Kennedy as a far-left radical to draw potential Democratic voters away from Biden.

Whatever the mechanism, the Trump team’s view is simple and is backed by public and private polling: The more candidates in the race, the better for Trump. Biden’s team agrees. And in a race that could be decided by tens of thousands of votes — as the last two presidential elections have been — even small shifts in the share of votes could change the result.

“There is no question that in a close presidential race, independent or minor party candidates can have a disproportionately large impact,” said Roger Stone, who is Trump’s longest-serving political adviser and who has worked on third-party campaigns, including advising Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s nominee in 2012.

Republican donors are pouring funds into Kennedy’s independent bid for the presidency. He has raised substantially more from donors who previously supported Trump than he has from those who backed Biden. Some are big names in Republican politics who have so far given relatively small amounts, including $3,300 last August from Elizabeth Uihlein, whose family is among the GOP’s biggest contributors.

Timothy Mellon, the largest single donor to Kennedy’s biggest super PAC, is also the largest backer of MAGA Inc. Mellon, a reclusive billionaire from one of America’s wealthiest families, has over the past year given the Kennedy super PAC $20 million and the Trump super PAC $15 million, as of the most recent disclosures that were filed in March. Another prominent Kennedy backer is Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock.com who worked with Trump on his effort to overturn the 2020 election.

Trump himself is intensely interested in the third-party candidates, according to aides. He is eager to know what their effect is expected to be on the race and how they are polling, although his engagement beyond asking questions of those around him is unclear.

Trump has been worried about the Libertarian Party pulling conservative voters away from him in November. But Richard Grenell, who is the former acting director of national intelligence and who is expected to play a big role in any second Trump administration, has been using his connections with Libertarian activists and donors to try to persuade them to attack Biden more than Trump, according to people familiar with his efforts.

Other Trump supporters are trying to help third-party and independent candidates with the expensive and arduous process of gathering the signatures needed to get on state ballots. Scott Presler, the conservative activist whom Lara Trump said she wanted as an early hire at the Republican National Committee, publicly reached out on social media to Stein and Cornel West, a left-wing academic who is running for president as an independent, to offer his help in collecting signatures to get them on the ballot.

Presler could not be reached for comment.

The moves by Trump allies come as the Democratic Party, alarmed by the potential for third-party candidates to swing the election, has mobilized a team of lawyers to scrutinize outsider candidates, including looking into whether they’ve followed the rules to get on state ballots.

For decades, third-party candidacies have loomed large in U.S. presidential elections. The best known in modern history is Ross Perot, whose run as a billionaire populist independent in 1992 garnered 19% of the vote and helped Bill Clinton win with only 43% of the popular vote. Ralph Nader, a Green Party candidate, siphoned votes away from Vice President Al Gore in the nail-biter 2000 presidential race against George W. Bush.

And in 2016, Stein, as the Green Party candidate, gave a meaningful — and arguably election-deciding — boost to Trump by drawing progressive voters away from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. That year, billionaire businessperson and Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, a supporter of Trump, helped fund efforts to bolster Stein.

Polling shows that third-party candidates could play an especially large role in 2024. Most Americans are unhappy with the choice between Trump and Biden. Voters are increasingly disillusioned with the two major parties, and trust in American institutions has eroded over the past 30 years. Those trends provide an opening for candidates who style themselves as anti-establishment outsiders willing to blow up the system. Trump took advantage of similar conditions in 2016.

In a Quinnipiac University poll in late March, Biden and Trump both received less than 40% of the vote in a hypothetical five-way race, with Kennedy getting 13%, Stein receiving 4% and West capturing 3%.

In the multicandidate race, Trump led by a single percentage point; Biden led Trump by 3 percentage points in a hypothetical head-to-head race.

“The path to victory here is clearly maximizing the reach of these left-wing alternatives,” said Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist who also served as Trump’s campaign chair in 2016.

“No Republican knows that oil production under Biden is higher than ever. But Jill Stein’s people do,” Bannon added. “Stein is furious about the oil drilling. The college kids are furious about it. The more exposure these guys get, the better it is for us.”

Brian Hughes, a spokesperson for Trump, described Kennedy as a “leftist and liberal with a history of supporting an extreme environmental agenda.” He said more broadly of the Democratic push to challenge outsider candidates, “While Joe Biden and his allies claim to defend democracy, they are using financial and legal resources to prevent candidates access to the ballot.”

“President Trump believes any candidate who qualifies for the ballot should be allowed to make their case to America’s voters,” he added.

For months, the Trump team has been privately polling various iterations of third-party tickets in battleground states. It has concluded that candidates floated for the Green Party and No Labels, which recently abandoned its effort to field a presidential candidate, pulled substantially more votes from Biden than from Trump.

A person briefed on other polling by Trump allies said that while it varies by state, Kennedy also pulls more votes from Biden than from Trump. The person cited as an example the Trump team’s recent private polling of voters in Arizona. Trump loses Hispanic voters by a close margin in a head-to-head contest against Biden there, but he wins Hispanic voters on the full ballot in Arizona — an indication that third-party candidates draw more heavily from Biden’s core constituencies than from Trump’s.

Still, Kennedy is seen as more of a potential threat to Trump. He has spent the past few years appearing on conservative news media programs and talking about issues like his fierce opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine. Advisers to Trump say that many Republican voters don’t know anything about Kennedy’s liberal views on gun control and the environment, and the Trump team hopes to bring back some of those voters after framing Kennedy as a liberal Democrat.

Allies of Trump and Biden are in a tug of war to define Kennedy, who has far more support than any other third-party candidate.

Democratic lawyers and operatives, many of whom have privately said that neither Gore nor Hillary Clinton had teams that took third-party candidates seriously enough, are fighting hard to keep Kennedy off the ballot. The Democratic National Committee hired Lis Smith, a veteran communications operative, and tasked her with branding Kennedy as a pro-Trump spoiler candidate.

Kennedy’s campaign and the super PACs backing him have paid an array of lawyers and consultants to secure ballot access. One of the consultants, Rita Palma, was captured in a video detailing a strategy to encourage New York voters to support Kennedy: “The Kennedy voter and the Trump voter, our mutual enemy is Biden.” Palma outlined a hypothetical scenario in which Kennedy would win enough electoral votes to prevent either Trump or Biden from winning 270 electoral votes, pushing the decision to Congress in what is known as a contingent election.

On her account on the social platform X, Palma has expressed support over the years for both Kennedy and Trump. In posts first reported by CNN on Tuesday, she had endorsed Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen and described Sidney Powell, who has pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts related to Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia, as “my person of the decade.”

Stefanie Spear, a spokesperson for the Kennedy campaign, described Palma as “a ballot-access consultant” for upcoming signature collection efforts in New York. Of Palma’s remarks about the hypothetical scenario, Spear said Palma’s statements “in no way reflect the strategy of the Kennedy campaign.”

Spear did not respond to requests for comment about the Trump allies’ efforts to elevate Kennedy, or to inquiries about Palma’s support for Trump’s claims about the 2020 election.

Many conservative news media personalities and influencers recently turned against Kennedy after he decided to run as an independent instead of as a Democrat and it became apparent that he could pull votes from Trump.

Still, one complication with attacking Kennedy is that Trump has made clear that he likes him.

Trump put out a statement on Truth Social, his social media platform, that called Kennedy “a radical-left Democrat,” but he has mostly laid off him otherwise. Trump has called Kennedy a “very smart person” and has even privately floated him as a potential running mate, though his advisers view that prospect as extremely unlikely.

An outside group aligned with Trump asked a question about a Trump-Kennedy ticket in a poll several weeks ago, according to a person with knowledge of the survey. The results were not particularly striking. Trump had told an ally that he believed Kennedy could help him with voters who were upset with him for his support of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I like Trump-Kennedy. I like the way that sounds,” Trump told another ally recently. “There’s something about that that I like.”

Trump urges House Republicans to kill FISA bill, adding to headaches for Speaker Johnson

CNN

Trump urges House Republicans to kill FISA bill, adding to headaches for Speaker Johnson

Melanie Zanona and Clare Foran, CNN – April 10, 2024

Former President Donald Trump is urging House Republicans to kill a surveillance reauthorization bill ahead of a key procedural vote on Wednesday, adding to headaches for GOP leaders who have struggled to build support for the legislation as it faces pushback from conservative hardliners.

“KILL FISA,” Trump wrote on his social media platform Truth Social.

Trump wading into the debate now is a major problem for House Speaker Mike Johnson and could imperil the entire bill, as some hardliners were already either critical of the measure or on the fence about it.

House Republicans have been fiercely divided over how to handle the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reauthorization, putting pressure on Johnson to find a path forward amid competing factions within his conference. With the threat of a vote on his ouster looming, the Louisiana Republican’s every move is under even more intense scrutiny, and the speaker has once again found himself odds with his right flank over the surveillance law.

Johnson had previously announced that the House will take up a FISA reauthorization bill this week. The bill, titled the Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act, would reauthorize Section 702 of FISA for five years and aims to impose a series of reforms.

In a sign of the trouble ahead for GOP leaders, however, at least one Republican, Rep. Matt Gaetz, has already said he would vote against a procedural vote expected Wednesday afternoon, which means Speaker Johnson can only afford to lose one more.

Johnson told members at a closed-door conference meeting Wednesday morning that he spoke with Trump Tuesday night. But, according to members, Johnson told them they didn’t discuss FISA.

Authority for Section 702 was extended through April 19 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The law as it stands allows the US intelligence community to collect the communications records of foreign persons based overseas, but it also allows the FBI to search the data it collects for Americans’ information in what critics have called a “backdoor” search.

The searches of US persons’ information are governed by a set of internal rules and procedures designed to protect Americans’ privacy and civil liberties, but critics say that loopholes allow the FBI to search the data it collects for Americans’ information — as opposed to from foreign adversaries — without proper justification.

The complicated politics surrounding the law have long united strange bedfellows: Some conservative Republicans have joined forces with progressive Democrats to push for reforms to the authority, while security-focused Democrats and Republicans have opposed major new restrictions.

One major sticking point is whether the FBI should be required to obtain a warrant before querying the database for information on US citizens.

In a sign of how challenging the issue has proved for House Republicans to navigate, leadership pulled a pair of surveillance law bills from the floor in December amid internal GOP divisions. In February, a spokesperson for the speaker said the House would consider FISA reform “at a later date” to allow for more time to reach consensus on a path forward.

The authority has also become a high-profile political target of conservative Republicans after it became known that a different section of FISA was inappropriately used to surveil Trump 2016 campaign aide Carter Page.

In his call to “kill FISA,” Trump wrote on Truth Social, “IT WAS ILLEGALLY USED AGAINST ME, AND MANY OTHERS. THEY SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN!!!”

“FISA and Section 702 have been essential to intercepting communications of dangerous foreign actors overseas, understanding the threats against our country, countering our adversaries, and saving countless American lives,” Johnson said in a letter to colleagues on Friday. “Our responsibility now is simple: maintain the tool but strictly prohibit future abuses.”

The speaker went on to say that the bill the House is expected to take up includes reforms “that will establish new procedures to rein in the FBI, increase accountability at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), impose penalties for wrongdoing, and institute unprecedented transparency across the FISA process so we no longer have to wait years to uncover potential abuses.”

CNN’s Lauren Fox and Haley Talbot contributed to this report.

Trump is recreating his web of chaos at home and abroad in a preview of what a second term could look like

CNN

Trump is recreating his web of chaos at home and abroad in a preview of what a second term could look like

Analysis by Stephen Collinson, CNN – April 10, 2024

Marco Bello/Reuters

Some top Democrats worry that Americans have forgotten the chaos that raged every day Donald Trump was president, and that voters’ faded recall of the uproar will end up handing him a second term.

The presumptive GOP nominee is, however, doing a good job of jogging memories as he blazes a trail of disruption through Congress, immigration and national security policy, reproductive health care and the nation’s top courts.

After storming to the Republican nomination, Trump is again the epicenter of controversy. His volatile personality, loyalty tests, rampant falsehoods, thirst to serve his political self-interest and the aftershocks of his first term are compromising attempts to govern the country. And the election is still seven months away.

Many of today’s most intractable conflicts in US politics can be traced to Trump and the turmoil that is an essential ingredient of his political appeal to base voters who want Washington and its rules ripped down – no matter the consequences.

Events this week – and over the first three months of this year – illustrate how much Trump has shaped the political tumult:

— On Wednesday, House Speaker Mike Johnson suffered another stunning defeat, further gutting his authority, after hard right GOP members blocked a bill to reauthorize a critical surveillance spying program at Trump’s behest.

— Another measure critical to America’s capacity to wield its global power and its international reputation – a $60 billion arms package for Ukraine – is still going nowhere. Trump ally Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is threatening to topple Johnson if he dares to pass it.

— Nationwide chaos is, meanwhile, spreading in the wake of the Trump-built Supreme Court conservative majority overturning Roe v. Wade in 2022. In the latest stunning twist, Arizona is about to revert to a near total Civil War-era abortion ban.

— Bipartisan efforts to solve a border crisis are in tatters after Trump’s House followers in February killed the most sweeping and conservative bill in years. The ex-president appeared to want to deprive President Joe Biden of an election-year win and to continue his searing claims that America is being invaded by undocumented migrants he calls “animals.”

— Some of the nation’s top courts are being tied in knots by Trump’s incessant, and often frivolous, appeals as he desperately tries to postpone the shame of becoming the first ex-president to go on criminal trial. His unchained social media posts may be coming perilously close to infringing a gag order ahead of his hush money trial beginning Monday.

— The Supreme Court will later this month wrestle with Trump’s claims of almost unchecked presidential power – a constitutional conundrum that no other president in two-and-a-half centuries of American history ever raised. The suit is largely a ruse to delay his federal election interference trial – and it is working.

Trump’s entanglement in some of the most intense political storms rocking Washington, and reverberating even beyond US shores, offers fresh evidence of his power – expressed through his capacity to make key elements of the Republican Party bend to his will. It highlights his mercurial personality and a political style that relies on instinct rather than long-term strategy. And it is leaving no doubt that the mayhem that burst out of the Oval Office during his administration would return at an even more intense level if he gets back there in 2025.

Trump delivers a blow to Johnson – then invites him to Mar-a-Lago

Trump dispensed his orders to his acolytes in the House with the words “Kill FISA” on his Truth Social network.

The former president was referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which national security officials say is critical to allowing espionage agencies to listen to communications of suspected terrorists and US adversaries. Some of those key powers need to be reauthorized by Congress by the middle of the month.

Critics of the law, including some civil liberties groups and some conservatives, argue that Section 702 of the act, which allows the surveillance of foreigners outside the US, is unconstitutional because sometimes Americans in contact with those targets get swept up in the net. But Trump is bent on vengeance against the FBI over its investigation into contacts between his 2016 campaign and Russia. He claimed in a social media post that FISA was “ILLEGALLY USED AGAINST ME, AND MANY OTHERS. THEY SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN!!!”

On Wednesday, 19 Republicans – including some of Trump’s loudest backers in the House – bucked Johnson and voted with Democrats to block consideration of the bill, dealing yet another blow to the speaker’s fast-ebbing authority and provoking a potential national security crisis.

Bill Barr, Trump’s former attorney general, told CNN’s Annie Grayer on Wednesday that the actions of his former boss and allies were “a travesty and reckless.” Barr argued that the ex-president was being driven by “personal pique rather than rationality and sound policy.” He said Trump’s complaints about the investigation into his 2016 campaign had nothing to do with the FISA section that needs to be reauthorized. And in a chilling warning, Barr accused the ex-president of putting US national security at risk. “We’re faced with probably the greatest threat to the homeland from terrorist attack and our means of defending against that is FISA. And to take that tool away, I think, is going to result in successful terrorist attacks and the loss of life,” he said.

Johnson’s latest humiliation came as he’s fighting for his job on another front. He held tense crisis talks on Wednesday with Greene, who is threatening to call a vote to oust him. The speaker may be the most conservative person to ever hold his job, but the Georgia lawmaker is accusing him of becoming a Democrat in all but name. Johnson’s crime was to keep the government open by passing budget bills and his consideration of the delayed Ukraine funding, which is also opposed by the former president.

“If he funds the deep state and the warrantless spying on Americans, he’s telling Republican voters all over the country that the continued behavior will happen more, spying on President Trump and spying on hundreds of thousands of Americans,” Greene told CNN’s Manu Raju on Wednesday. She added: “The funding of Ukraine must end. We are not responsible for a war in Ukraine. We’re responsible for the war on our border, and I made that clear to Speaker Johnson.”

Trump’s role in these two issues that threaten to bring Johnson down make it all the more curious that the speaker plans to travel to Mar-a-Lago on Friday to hold a joint news conference with the Republican presumptive nominee.

Johnson badly needs Trump to wield his influence with the restive GOP majority if he is to survive. And his pilgrimage to the Florida resort will make a strong statement about who really runs the House majority. There is a clue to a potential quid pro quo in the announced topic of their press conference – “election integrity.” That’s the code in Trump’s world for false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

Johnson was a prominent purveyor of falsehoods about a stolen election and his continued willingness to buy into them might be the price for securing Trump’s support now.

Ukraine’s future may depend on the speaker sacrificing his future

Trump’s transformation of the GOP from a party that used to laud President Ronald Reagan’s victory over the Kremlin in the Cold War to one that often seems to be fulfilling Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy goals is striking.

The GOP’s blockade of more funding for Ukraine threatens America’s global authority and reputation as a nation that supports democracies and opposes tyrants like a Russian leader who is accused of war crimes. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that the war will be lost if the US arms don’t arrive. He told CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen on Wednesday that “what we have now is not sufficient. If we want to truly prevail over Putin.”

A few hours later, Gen. Christopher Cavoli, commander of US European Command, backed up Zelensky’s warnings. “If one side can shoot and the other side can’t shoot back, the side that can’t shoot back loses. So the stakes are very high,” Cavoli told the House Armed Services Committee.

Yet Trump has vowed to end the war in 24 hours if he wins a second term. That can only happen one way – by Zelensky giving territorial concessions to Putin, who launched an illegal invasion and to whom the former US president has often genuflected.

News that Johnson is heading to Mar-a-Lago is yet another reason for US supporters of Ukraine to worry.

Abortion chaos

One of Biden’s goals is trying to remind suburban, moderate and independent voters who may be alienated by Trump’s constant chaos how disorientating life could be when he was president.

That’s one reason why the Biden campaign has seized on the fallout of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade to highlight the pandemonium that can result from Trump’s leadership.

The overturning of the nationwide constitutional right to an abortion was based on the reasoning that state legislatures that are closer to the people than the judiciary are the appropriate place for such a divisive moral question. In an ideal world or a political vacuum, that might be the case. But the decision took little account of the corrosive polarization of America’s politics and the result has been a confusing patchwork of state laws and court decisions. Many patients are being deprived of vital health services – for instance after miscarriages. Some IVF fertility treatments have been stopped in Alabama, for example, and the Supreme Court has been forced to consider an attempt to halt nationwide access to a widely used abortion pill.

Anti-abortion campaigners are, meanwhile, pushing hard for total state and national bans on the procedure while abortion rights advocates are seeking to inject the issue into key election races — with significant recent success in even some red states.

Trump this week tried to defuse the growing threat to his campaign from his and the conservative Supreme Court majority’s handiwork, insisting he’d leave the issue to the states. His damage control effort didn’t even last 24 hours. The Arizona Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate a 160-year-old ban triggered a backlash that went right back to the former president.

Trump had another go on Wednesday, pledging that he wouldn’t sign a federal ban on abortion as president – as many conservatives are pushing him to. But given how many times he’s shifted his position on the issue, it’s hard to know what he really thinks.

For once, Trump could end up being the chief victim of the chaos he wreaks.

Arizona abortion ruling, which Democrats decry, splits Republicans and abortion opponents

ABC News

Arizona abortion ruling, which Democrats decry, splits Republicans and abortion opponents

Libby Cathey and Oren Oppenheim – April 9, 2024

The Arizona Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday to uphold a near-total abortion ban predating Arizona’s statehood has drawn differing reactions from state Republicans who previously claimed to be “100% pro-life” while both local and national Democrats vowed to push to protect abortion access in one of the most politically important states on the 2024 map.

Vice President Kamala Harris is planning to travel to Tucson on Friday for her “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms,” where she’s expected to continue to squarely blame former President Donald Trump for appointing three of the justices who voted in 2022 to overrule Roe v. Wade’s national guarantees to abortion access.

Since then, efforts to either protect or expand abortion rights have succeeded in both red and blue states around the country when put up directly for a vote.

“Arizona just rolled back the clock to a time before women could vote – and, by his own admission, there’s one person responsible: Donald Trump,” Harris said in a statement on Tuesday.

She argued Trump would sign a federal abortion ban if elected again and “if he has the opportunity,” though Trump this week put out a new statement insisting that he wants to leave the choice to individual states — without specifying what he would do on a national ban.

President Joe Biden, in a statement through the White House, also blasted the Arizona ban, which only has exceptions to save the life of the pregnant woman. Biden called the restrictions “cruel” and the “result of the extreme agenda of Republican elected officials who are committed to ripping away women’s freedom.”

The ban is temporarily blocked pending a trial court decision. Anyone found guilty of violating the ban will face two to five years in state prison.

Republicans, meanwhile, appear to be walking a tightrope on the issue.

PHOTO: U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake, R-Ariz., takes questions at a news conference, Feb. 29, 2024, in Phoenix. (Rebecca Noble/Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake, R-Ariz., takes questions at a news conference, Feb. 29, 2024, in Phoenix. (Rebecca Noble/Getty Images, FILE)

Senate candidate Kari Lake, who narrowly lost the governor’s race in 2022, said she supports Trump’s stance on abortion, that he’d leave it up to states, and claimed she would oppose both “federal funding” and “federal ban[s]” on abortion in the Senate.

“I wholeheartedly agree with President Trump — this is a very personal issue that should be determined by each individual state and her people,” Lake said in a statement Tuesday. “I oppose today’s ruling, and I am calling on [Gov.] Katie Hobbs and the State Legislature to come up with an immediate common sense solution that Arizonans can support. Ultimately, Arizona voters will make the decision on the ballot come November.”

However, Lake also regularly says she’s “100% pro-life” and supports “saving as many babies as possible.”

Asked last month how she would vote on a pro-abortion access initiative if it made it on the ballot in Arizona, Lake dismissed the question to simply say, “I’m pro-life.”

MORE: Trump’s abortion position leaves key questions unanswered on major campaign issue

PHOTO: Rep. Juan Ciscomani, R-Ariz., questions Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on the 'FY2024 Request for the United States Department of Education,' in Rayburn Building on April 18, 2023. (Tom Williams/AP, FILE)
PHOTO: Rep. Juan Ciscomani, R-Ariz., questions Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on the ‘FY2024 Request for the United States Department of Education,’ in Rayburn Building on April 18, 2023. (Tom Williams/AP, FILE)

Freshman Rep. Juan Ciscomani, who represents a swing district, also called Tuesday’s ruling “a disaster for women and providers” — after having praised the U.S. Supreme Court decision against Roe two years ago and after having said he’ll support a preexisting 15-week ban in his state regarding abortion.

“In Arizona, our 15 week law protected the rights of women and new life. It respected women and the difficult decision of ending a pregnancy – one I will never personally experience and won’t pretend to understand,” Ciscomani wrote in a post on X, adding, “I oppose a national abortion ban. The territorial law is archaic. We must do better for women and I call on our state policymakers to immediately address this in a bipartisan manner.”

Former Republican Gov. Doug Ducey posted on social media that the decision was not his “preferred” outcome and urged elected leaders to find “a policy that is workable and reflective of our electorate.” However, Ducey also appointed the four justices who supported the court’s majority in the opinion.

“I signed the 15-week law as Governor because it is thoughtful policy, and an approach to this very sensitive issue that Arizonans can actually agree on,” Ducey wrote on X. “The ruling today is not the outcome I would have preferred, and I call on our elected leaders to heed the will of the people and address this issue with a policy that is workable and reflective of our electorate.”

Republican strategist Barrett Marson called the ruling “ground-shifting” for Arizona politics and argued the decision will reverberate through November’s elections, even if lawmakers do meet in the meantime for a special session to change the law amid public fallout.

“The Arizona Supreme Court ruling may be a huge victory for the pro-life movement in Arizona, it will be short term. The decision will only bring out more voters in 2024 to approve the abortion initiative and likely vote for Democratic candidates,” Marson said in a series of posts on X on Tuesday. “When [Gov. Katie] Hobbs calls a special session to open access to abortion and repeal the 1864 law, Republicans will be in a difficult spot.”

PHOTO: Arizona Supreme Court Justices from left; William G. Montgomery, John R Lopez IV, Vice Chief Justice Ann A. Scott Timmer, Chief Justice Robert M. Brutinel, Clint Bolick and James Beene listen to oral arguments on April 20, 2021, in Phoenix. (Matt York/AP, FILE)
PHOTO: Arizona Supreme Court Justices from left; William G. Montgomery, John R Lopez IV, Vice Chief Justice Ann A. Scott Timmer, Chief Justice Robert M. Brutinel, Clint Bolick and James Beene listen to oral arguments on April 20, 2021, in Phoenix. (Matt York/AP, FILE)

Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, expected to face Lake in the Senate race in the fall, seized on her previously calling the pre-statehood ban a “great law” and sent a fundraising pitch to supporters reminding them that as a senator he would vote to end the filibuster rule as a means to protect abortion access nationwide, unlike Lake.

“This is not what Arizonans want, and women could die because of it,” Gallego said in a statement. “Yet again, extremist politicians like Kari Lake are forcing themselves into doctors’ offices and ripping away the right for women to make their own healthcare decisions,” adding he’s “committed to doing whatever it takes to protect abortion rights at the federal level.”

Potential ballot initiative gains momentum

Voters may have a chance to weigh in on abortion access directly in November.

Arizona for Abortion Access, which is working to get a constitutional amendment on the state’s ballot enshrining abortion access, attacked Tuesday’s ruling but said it would motivate more people to join their campaign ahead of the state’s July 3 deadline for signatures.

The proposed amendment would amend Arizona’s Constitution to prohibit the state from legislating against abortion up until fetal viability, around 24 weeks into pregnancy, and enshrines other abortion protections into law.

The group said earlier this month that they had gathered more than 500,000 signatures — surpassing the threshold to get an initiative on the Arizona general election ballot.

“This ruling will put the lives of untold Arizonans at risk and robs us of our most basic rights,” Arizona for Abortion Access campaign manager Cheryl Bruce said in a statement. “Implementing a near-total abortion ban from before women even had the right to vote only further demonstrates why we need politicians and judges out of our healthcare decisions. Now more than ever, our campaign is driven to succeed in passing this amendment and protecting access to abortion in Arizona once and for all.”

The president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, Marjorie Dannenfelser, who opposes abortion, called the decision an “enormous victory for unborn children and their mothers” and indicated abortion opponents in the state will now work to defeat the ballot initiative.

MORE: Fighting for their lives: Women and the impact of abortion restrictions in post-Roe America

“The compassion of the pro-life movement won in court today, but we must continue to fight,” Dannenfelser said in a statement.

“Governor Hobbs and her pro-abortion allies will pour millions into deceiving the voters about the upcoming amendment that permits abortion on demand when babies can feel pain and survive outside the womb,” she said. We must defeat this extreme measure that would force Arizonans to pay for abortions and eliminate health protections for women.”

Alongside Hobbs, Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, a Democrat, said she will not prosecute any abortion providers under the law she deemed “draconian.”

ABC News’ Olivia Osteen contributed to this report.

Arizona Supreme Court Revives Total Abortion Ban

Rolling Stone

Arizona Supreme Court Revives Total Abortion Ban

Tessa Stuart – April 9, 2024

The Arizona Supreme Court has revived an 1864 criminal ban on abortion.

The Civil War-era law, which predated Arizona statehood by almost a half a century, prohibits abortion at any stage of pregnancy, for any reason other than when “necessary” to save the pregnant person’s life. The ban carries a penalty of up to five years in prison for abortion providers.

“[P]hysicians are now on notice that all abortions, except those necessary to save a woman’s life, are illegal,” the court’s opinion read.

The ban — which is set to take effect 14 days after Tuesday’s ruling, on April 23 — will replace Arizona’s 2022 law which banned most abortions after 15 weeks gestation. (That law contained a single exception, for “medical emergencies”; providers who violated it could be charged with a felony and lose their medical licenses.)

The legal case, originally brought in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs decision, sought to determine which ban — 1864 or 2022 — would take precedence after the court struck down federal protections for abortion.

In December 2022, the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld the 15-week ban. But by that time, Arizona voters had replaced Mark Brnovich, the Republican attorney general who argued for restoring the 1864 ban, with a Democrat, Kris Mayes, who declined to appeal the court’s decision. In a statement Tuesday, Mayes called the court’s decision “unconscionable and an affront to freedom,” and said her office would not enforce the ban.

The case could have ended there, but Dr. Eric Hazelrigg, an anti-abortion OB-GYN from Gilbert, Arizona, who petitioned the court to be appointed as a “guardian ad litem” for the state’s “unborn” children, intervened to appeal the lower court decision. Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative christian litigation shop known for its willingness to take on culture war cases, represented Hazelrigg.

The decision was four to two; all six of the Supreme Court’s justices — four men and two women — were appointed by Republican governors.

The decision could have major electoral consequences: advocates for reproductive rights are working to place a popular referendum on the November ballot that would protect the right to abortion in Arizona. The state is also seen as a critical battleground, one that could decide both the presidential contest and control of the Senate this November.

The Arizona Supreme Court’s decision comes as debate has raged over whether abortion laws should be determined at the state or federal level. Republicans, Including Donald Trump, have had a difficult time addressing the issue this election season, feeling the need to placate the party’s far-right base while not alienating the vast majority of Americans who believe in protecting reproductive rights.

Trump on Monday released a video statement insisting he believes that the issue should be up to the states — but the claim is dubious, to say the least. The former president has repeatedly taken credit for killing Roe v. Wade, and has on several recent occasions spoken about implementing a federal ban.

The real price tag for Trump’s billionaires’ banquet

CNN Opinion:

The real price tag for Trump’s billionaires’ banquet

Opinion by Dean Obeidallah – April 7, 2024

Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.”

This weekend, some 100 wealthy people were on the guest list for an exclusive fundraising event at the ritzy Palm Beach, Florida, home of billionaire investor John Paulson.

Dean Obeidallah - CNN
Dean Obeidallah – CNN

The soirée reportedly raised more than $50 million for former President Donald Trump’s 2024 White House campaign. Trump’s well-heeled backers paid $250,000 per person for those serving on the “host committee” to $824,600 per person to serve as a “chairman.” Those contributing at the top level were allowed to be seated at Trump’s table during dinner.

In more normal times, there would be nothing particularly remarkable about this kind of high-priced fundraiser. Trump, however, is anything but a conventional Republican candidate. After all, he attempted a coup to remain in power despite losing the 2020 election for which he now faces numerous felony charges.

Trump’s deep-pocketed and highly credentialed donors, including Paulson, doubtless are fully aware of his record, but nevertheless see fit to donate massive sums of money to a man who attempted to destroy the peaceful transfer of power that stands at the heart of our democracy.

Paulson and the other wealthy donors who attended Saturday night’s event must surely be aware that Trump sat idly by, watching on television as the January 6 attacks unfolded — ignoring requests that he call off his supporters for more than three hours and even turning a deaf ear to his aides and one of his family members.

They may also know that since leaving the White House, Trump has celebrated the January 6 attackers, even starting many of his campaign rallies by playing a recording sung by the “J6 Prison Choir.” They might have heard that he has vowed to pardon those convicted of crimes related to the siege of the Capitol, which in some cases included assaulting police officers.

The effort to upend our democracy also involved violent groups like the right-wing, extremist Proud Boys, the leader of which has been convicted of seditious conspiracy in connection with his role in seeking to interfere with the peaceful handover of power on January 6.

None of that seems to have troubled these rich people — at least not enough to get them to forgo making massive donations to Trump’s presidential campaign. Their fundraiser came a little over a week after Democrats, including former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, held a star-studded fundraising event for incumbent President Joe Biden that raked in some $25 million.

If they’ve been paying attention, the wealthy donors at Saturday night’s fundraiser for Trump — who included hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, oil tycoon Harold Hamm and casino mogul Steve Wynn — might also be aware that in December, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Trump had been “engaged in an insurrection.” And even though the US Supreme Court ultimately determined that Trump could remain on the 2024 ballot in Colorado, it did not overrule the state’s high court on the issue of Trump having taken part in an “insurrection.”

Trump’s donors might even have heard reports about the former president channeling Adolf Hitler by declaring that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of our nation, his vow to be a “dictator” on the first day of his presidency and his repeated praise of autocrats. Presumably, if they found any of this alarming, they would not have donated at least a quarter of a million dollars per person to help Trump take back the White House.

To put it bluntly, I don’t put the sophisticated, ultra-wealthy people who attended this weekend’s campaign fundraiser in the same category as average Americans who have been conned time and again by Trump’s repeated lies that the 2020 election was “rigged.” I suspect that this elite group of backers knows exactly what is going on with the former president.

It seems more than plausible that Paulson had at least some second thoughts about Trump in 2024. In fact, earlier in the 2024 campaign, Paulson raised funds for Trump’s GOP primary opponent Ron DeSantis despite having made big donations to Trump in 2016 and 2020.

But all of that changed once it became clear that Trump would become the GOP’s presidential nominee. A few weeks ago, Paulson told CNN, during a discussion ahead of Saturday’s fundraiser, that he was “pleased to support President Trump in his re-election efforts.” He added, “His policies on the economy, energy, immigration and foreign policy will be very beneficial for the country.”

Paulson left out any mention of the Trump tax cut enacted in 2017, which greatly helped the very wealthy set, which Paulson and the others at Saturday’s dinner are privileged to be part of.

Is that why these very rich people are now turning a blind eye to the threat that Trump poses to the rule of law in our country? Are they hoping he’ll enact more policies that could fatten their wallets? Perhaps they have fully grasped the danger Trump poses to our republic, but have decided they are on board with him all the same.

Or perhaps they believe they can benefit as wealthy friends of an autocratic leader. After all, in Hungary led by Trump’s ally Viktor Orban, his inner circle has profited under his leadership with the funneling of contracts. Of course, the same can be said of Russia under Vladimir Putin, where the oligarchs who gave him their support became even wealthier — until running afoul of him, when some were “forced into exile or died in suspicious circumstances.”

A short time after the January 6 attack, Chuck Collins, director of the Project on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, was unstinting in his criticism of Trump’s uber-wealthy backers. “They enabled Donald Trump. They bankrolled his campaigns,” he told the progressive news site Common Dreams. “And they cheered as Trump cut their taxes, swept away regulations that pinched their profits, and packed the courts with judges eager to wink at their transgressions.”

Liz Cheney — the conservative former US Representative from Wyoming and onetime Republican member of the House GOP leadership — warned Americans recently that with Trump’s second rise to power we are “sleepwalking into dictatorship.” If he in fact regains power, we can blame, among others, these short-sighted, wealthy enablers who helped underwrite Trump’s campaign. They undoubtedly know better, but appear to care more about helping their bottom line than protecting our democracy.