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Arizona Republicans censure Cindy McCain, GOP governor

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PHOENIX — Arizona Republicans voted Saturday to censure Cindy McCain and two prominent GOP officials who have found themselves crosswise with former President Donald Trump.

The censures of Sen. John McCain’s widow, former Sen. Jeff Flake and Gov. Doug Ducey are merely symbolic. But they show the party’s foot soldiers are focused on enforcing loyalty to Trump, even in the wake of an election that saw Arizona inch away from its staunchly Republican roots.

Party activists also reelected controversial Chairwoman Kelli Ward, who has been one of Trump’s most unflinching supporters and among the most prolific promoters of his baseless allegations of election fraud.

The Arizona GOP’s combative focus has delighted Trump’s staunchest supporters and worried Republican insiders who have watched the party lose ground in the suburbs as the influence of its traditional conservative establishment has faded in favor of Trump. A growing electorate of young Latinos and newcomers bringing their more liberal politics have further hurt the GOP.

“This is a time for choosing for Republicans. Are we going to be the conservative party?” said Kirk Adams, a former state House speaker and chief of staff to Ducey. “Or is this a party … that’s loyal to a single person?”

It’s a question of Republican identity that party officials and activists are facing across the country following Trump’s 2020 loss, and particularly after a mob of his supporters laid siege on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Nowhere is the question more acute than Arizona, where the state GOP’s unflinching loyalty to Trump stands out even in a party that’s been remade everywhere in the image of the former president.

Ward has relentlessly — but unsuccessfully — sued to overturn the election results. The party has used its social media accounts to urge followers to fight and perhaps even to die in support of Trump’s false claims of victory. Two of the state’s four Republican congressmen are accused of playing a role in organizing the Jan. 6 rally that turned violent.

After dominating Arizona politics for decades, Republicans now find themselves on their heels in the state’s highest offices. President Joe Biden narrowly eked out a victory here, becoming just the second Democrat in more than five decades to win the state. Consecutive victories in 2018 and 2020 gave Democrats control of both U.S. Senate seats for the first time in nearly 70 years.

Ward, a physician and former state legislator who lost two Republican primaries for the U.S. Senate, defeated three challengers to win a second term.

In a brief interview, Ward acknowledged “disappointment at the top of the ticket” but said she and many other Republicans still question the results showing victories for Biden and Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. Judges have rejected eight lawsuits challenging Arizona’s election results.

Ward pointed to GOP successes down the ballot, noting Republicans defied expectations in local races.

Ward said she’s a “Trump Republican” who will “always put America first, who believes in faith, family and freedom.” The way forward for the GOP, she said, is keeping Trump’s 74 million voters engaged.

“Yes, I will be radical about those things because those are the things that keep this country great,” Ward said. “The people who are complaining are the people who actually put us in this spot where we are in Arizona, people who have been mamby pamby, lie down and allow the Democrats to walk all over them.”

The censures target some of Arizona’s most prominent Republicans,

Cindy McCain endorsed Biden and became a powerful surrogate for the Democrat following years of attacks by Trump on her husband. She was also targeted by the state party for her support of “leftist causes,” including gay marriage.

“Maybe (Ward) should be reminded that my husband never lost an Arizona election since his first win in 1982,” McCain said in a statement before the vote.

Flake was one of the few congressional Republicans who was openly critical of Trump for failing to adhere to conservative values. He declined to run for reelection in 2018 and endorsed Biden in last year’s election.

“If condoning the President’s behavior is required to stay in the Party’s good graces, I’m just fine being on the outs,” Flake wrote on Twitter before the vote.

Ducey is being targeted for his restrictions on individuals and businesses to contain the spread of COVID-19. While it’s not mentioned in the proposed censure, he had a high-profile break with the president when he signed the certification of Biden’s victory.

“These resolutions are of no consequence whatsoever and the people behind them have lost whatever little moral authority they may have once had,” said Sara Mueller, Ducey’s political director.

Many traditional conservatives fret that the censures and Ward’s combative style turn off the swing voters and ticket-splitters who handed Democrats their recent victories. But they say the party’s decisions will reflect only the views of about 1,500 committed activists.

John McCain was censured by the state GOP in 2014 and went on to comfortably win a Republican primary over Ward and a general election. The self-described maverick, known best for his willingness to buck his party, had strained relations with the state party for much of his career but was consistently reelected by wide margins.

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Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy ‘seriously considering’ Senate bid against Rubio in 2022

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WASHINGTON — Rep. Stephanie Murphy is taking preliminary steps toward challenging Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in next year’s midterm election, launching the kind of statewide “listening” tour that often precedes a campaign and is being done virtually because of the pandemic.

“I’m seriously considering [running for Senate] either in ’22 or ’24,” Murphy said in an interview with NBC News on Wednesday.

“The only person Marco Rubio cares about is Marco Rubio,” the third-term Democrat charged. And, she added, “I know what it takes to defeat a powerful Republican incumbent because I’ve done it.”

But first things first — the kind of soft launch that’s designed to build statewide name-recognition and is not explicitly about mounting a campaign. A four-minute video accompanying the announcement of her virtual “Cast Forward” tour of the state has all the hallmarks of a modern campaign launch biopic.

“My family escaped communist Vietnam and we were rescued by the U.S. Navy, and so I owe this country my life,” Murphy says in the video. “My parents, facing a future where their children would not have opportunity or freedom or democracy, decided that we might die in search of light, that that was better than to live on in darkness.”

Murphy would be facing a campaign with a state party in turmoil after Joe Biden won the presidency but lost Florida by three-and-a-half points in November. Republicans control the governor’s office and both U.S. Senate seats.

Rubio, who lost the GOP presidential primary to Donald Trump in 2016, won re-election to his Senate seat that year by about 8 percentage points, and he dodged a potential political maelstrom when Ivanka Trump decided against a rumored primary challenge for next year.

Earlier this week, Murphy played down a possible Senate bid in an interview with NBC News.

“I’m really kind of focused right now on doing my job, serving my community,” Murphy said then. “Of course, there will come a time where I hope I can, you know, share my experiences of winning in a district that very much mirrors the state more broadly. But this isn’t the moment. Right now, I’m really focused on trying to get the next Covid bill across the finish line.”

By Wednesday, she was less coy, acknowledging that she’s actively considering a campaign against Rubio. But she insisted that her listening tour isn’t designed as the platform for that bid.

“This isn’t about that,” she said.

The sessions will focus on five areas, according to a news release set to go out widely on Wednesday: Covid response; combating misinformation; fighting climate change; advancing social justice; and countering voter suppression.

The virtual tour is designed to help Florida Democrats find the right message to attract voters in the midterms, no matter who their candidates for various offices are, Murphy said.

“I think I have some ideas and experience to offer, but most importantly I want to listen,” she said.

As for Washington Democrats who think Florida is a waste of time and money for their party — and there are more than a few of those in the nation’s capital — Murphy said it’s winnable.

“Florida isn’t a red state,” she said. “It’s a hard state.”

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Michel Barnier makes thinly veiled threat to UK if EU boats are shut out of British waters

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MICHEL BARNIER has issued a thinly veiled threat to the UK saying its waters must remain open or Britain risks losing access to the EU’s electricity markets.

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Lawyers have found the parents of 105 separated migrant children in past month

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WASHINGTON — The lawyers working to reunite immigrant parents and children separated by the Trump administration reported on Wednesday that they have found the parents of 105 children in the past month.

The steering committee of pro-bono attorneys and advocates working on reunification said it had yet to find the parents of 506 children, down from 611 on Jan. 14, 2021, the last time it reported data to a federal judge overseeing the process.

Of those 506 children, the lawyers said the parents of about 322 are believed to have been deported from the U.S., making it more difficult to find them.

The lawyers are not required by the judge to say how many of the parents and children have actually been reunified.

The Biden administration recently formed a task force that will place the responsibility of finding and reuniting the families separated by the Trump administration, primarily under the “zero tolerance policy” of 2018, in the hands of the federal government. In their court filing on Wednesday, lawyers representing the separated families and working to reunite them said they would work with the task force going forward.

Lawyers for the Justice Department said they expect the task force will “resolve many — if not all — outstanding issues” related to the lawsuit out of the Southern District of California that resulted in the reunification process overseen by the judge.

One reason it has been so hard to find parents who were separated from their children is that many agreed to be deported without their children in order to allow their children to remain in the U.S. to claim asylum, their lawyers say.

Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and a lawyer representing the separated families in the lawsuit, has said the task force should commit to bringing back those deported parents to the U.S. under special protections in order to reunite with their children.

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