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Pennsylvania GOP leaders ask Supreme Court to block redrawn congressional map

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The Republican presiding officers of Pennsylvania’s House and Senate asked the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday to block a new congressional district map that is widely expected to boost Democratic prospects in the November midterm elections.

The emergency request filed by Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnetti says the state Supreme Court usurped legislative authority when it issued the new map on Monday, calling it an unprecedented decision.

Pamap2011

The congressional map drawn by the GOP-led legislature in 2011.

 (Supreme Court of Pennsylvania)

“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court conspicuously seized the redistricting process and prevented any meaningful ability for the Legislature to enact a remedial map to ensure a court drawn map,” they wrote.

NewPAmap7201

The revised congressional map for 2018.

 (Supreme Court of Pennsylvania)

Last month, the Democratic-majority Supreme Court of Pennsylvania threw out a 2011 congressional district map that had been drafted by Republicans, saying it violated the state constitution’s guarantee of free and equal elections. On Monday, the court released new maps of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts.

Republicans had won 13 of 18 seats in three straight elections under the now-invalidated map, even though Pennsylvania’s statewide elections are often closely divided and registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans.

The challenge adds uncertainty as candidates are preparing to circulate nominating petitions to get their names on the May primary ballot.

A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, responding to the lawmakers’ filing, said Wolf was “focused on making sure the Department of State is fully complying with the court’s order by updating their systems and assisting candidates, county election officials and voters prepare for the primary election.”

Turzai told reporters earlier Wednesday that a separate action in federal court in Harrisburg is also possible.

Wednesday marked the third time in four months that Turzai and Scarnati have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to put a halt to litigation over the 2011 map they took leading roles in producing.

In November, Justice Samuel Alito turned down a request for a stay of a federal lawsuit, a case that Turzai and Scarnati won in January.

On Feb. 5, Alito rejected a request from Turzai and Scarnati to halt a Jan. 22 order from the state Supreme Court that gave the Republican leaders two weeks to propose a map that would be supported by the Democratic governor and until last week to suggest a new map to the court.

The application filed Wednesday also was addressed to Alito.

Turzai and Scarnati argued that the state’s high court gave them scant time to propose their own map after throwing out the 2011 version, ensuring “that its desired plan to draft the new map would be successful.” As evidence of a “preordained plan,” they cited comments critical of gerrymandering made by Justice David Wecht during his 2015 campaign for the court.

“The court’s process was entirely closed,” they told Alito. “It did not allow the parties the opportunity to provide any comment to the proposed map, inquire on why certain subdivisions were split and whether it was to meet population equality, or further evaluate whether partisan intent played any role in the drafting.”

As a sign of the litigation’s potential impact on national politics, President Donald Trump on Tuesday urged Republicans to press their challenge of the map to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Your Original was correct! Don’t let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!” Trump tweeted.

The five Democrats on the state Supreme Court sided with Democratic voters who challenged the map, although one of the Democratic justices, Max Baer, has pointedly opposed the compressed timetable.

Congressional candidates have from Feb. 27 to March 20 to collect and submit enough signatures to get on the ballot, and the new district maps have candidates and would-be candidates scrambling to decide whether to jump in. Five incumbents are not seeking another term and a sixth has resigned, an unusually large number of openings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Macron accused of letting 'anti-British jealousy' get in the way of saving French lives

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A LEADING Brexiteer and former MEP has ripped into the EU over its latest crisis involving the AstraZeneca vaccine, as he singled out Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel.

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White House says Detroit mayor’s J&J vaccine comments a ‘misunderstanding’

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WASHINGTON — The White House Covid-19 task force said Friday that Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was misunderstood when he said the day before that he would turn down his city’s allotment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because he did not believe it to be as effective as Moderna and Pfizer.

Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser for Covid-19 response, said that the mayor’s office had been in touch with the White House and had indicated that Duggan’s comments were a “misunderstanding.”

“That was not actually the mayor’s intent and that was not the mayor’s comment. We’ve been in constant dialogue with Mayor Duggan who said, in fact, that was not what he said — or however it was reported,” Slavitt told reporters Friday.

“In fact, he is very eager for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”

Duggan, a Democrat who was first elected mayor in 2013, said at a press conference Thursday that the city was able to meet vaccine demands with just the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

“So, Johnson & Johnson is a very good vaccine. Moderna and Pfizer are the best. And I am going to do everything I can to make sure the residents of the City of Detroit get the best,” Duggan said.

“The day may come in March or April when every single Moderna and Pfizer is committed, and we still have people who need a vaccine. And at that point we will set up a Johnson & Johnson center. I don’t see that in the next couple of weeks.”

Duggan said that, as of Thursday, 100,307 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine had been administered to Detroit residents.

Asked about Duggan’s comments at the daily press conference, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that the White House had been in touch with Duggan and described his remarks as “a bit of a misunderstanding.” Psaki said she expected Duggan to publicly clarify his comments sometime Friday.

Duggan’s comments come as the White House is working to counter hesitancy from some Americans to take the newly-approved, single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine out of fear that it is less effective or in some ways inferior to the other two vaccines.

Health officials have stressed that people should get the first vaccine available to them and that the vaccines were not compared to each other in a clinical trial.

“We’ve got to get away from this issue of comparing one with the other, except to say that we have a highly efficacious group of three vaccines,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“The most important thing to do is to get vaccinated and not to try and figure out which one may or may not be better than the other.”

President Joe Biden announced earlier this week that, with the mass production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, there will be enough vaccines for every adult by the end of May, two months earlier than the administration had previously estimated.

Duggan has been a vocal supporter of Biden’s Covid-19 relief bill, and he met with the president at the White House in February to discuss the response to the pandemic.

Duggan said he had raised the issue of getting more vaccines with the president during their meeting, and told reporters that “I just have complete confidence in this administration.”

The White House Covid-19 task force also announced Friday that they would would open two new federally-supported mass vaccination sites at the Atlanta Falcon’s Stadium in Georgia and Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University in Ohio.



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Matt Hancock fights back against union bullies as NHS pay rise spat risks strike action

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MATT HANCOCK has called on NHS nurses to continue to “pull together” to protect Brits against coronavirus after union bosses threatened strike action.

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