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California Democrat, and #MeToo activist, allegedly urged staffers to play ‘spin the bottle’: report

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A California Democrat who was featured in Time magazine’s Person of the Year issue for her role in the anti-sexual harassment “#MeToo” movement allegedly urged staffers to play the grade-school classic, “spin the bottle,” after a night of heavy drinking at a fundraiser, Politico reported Sunday.

David John Kernick, 38, who worked in Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia’s office for five months in 2014, filed a formal complaint with the state, claiming that he was dismissed from his job for questioning the game.

Kernick told Politico that they played the game after an evening of heavy drinking. Garcia sat on a floor in a hotel room with about six people that included staff, he told the magazine.

“It was definitely uncomfortable,’’ Kernick said. “But I realized it’s different for a man than for a woman. … You know it’s inappropriate, but at the same time you may wonder, ‘How many women do you work for that act like that?’ You think … ’Maybe she’s just really cool.’’’

Last week, Garcia was hit with fresh allegations of misconduct in her office, including frequent discussions about sex and alcohol consumption at the Capitol.

San Diego lawyer Dan Gilleon filed a formal complaint with the Legislature detailing the allegations on behalf of four anonymous former employees in Garcia’s office.

He said they will cooperate with an investigation but do not want their names to be public at this time for fear of retribution.

The complainants allege that Garcia regularly talked about her sexual activity, including with other members, in front of staff. They also allege Garcia drank alcohol while doing official Assembly business and pressured staff to join her in drinking at the office or at bars.

The allegations came as Garcia is on a leave of absence following news she is being investigated in the groping of a former male legislative staff member in 2014.

None of the new complaints involve sexual misconduct, but Gilleon said the former employees considered Garcia’s frequent talk about sex a form sexual harassment.

“My clients will vigorously defend what they have said, but I will insist that the Assembly takes serious steps to ensure their protection against reprisal,” Gilleon said in a letter he delivered to the Assembly Rules Committee after a press conference on the Capitol steps.

Garcia, in a Facebook post, said she will address each of the issues individually once an investigation has been completed. But she said the claims don’t square with the atmosphere she worked to create. Her current and former chiefs of staff denied the behaviors described in the letter.

“I am confident I have consistently treated my staff fairly and respectfully. In a fast-paced legislative office, not everyone is the right fit for every position, and I do understand how a normal employment decision could be misinterpreted by the individual involved in that decision,” Garcia wrote.

Garcia took a leave of absence Friday after news broke that Daniel Fierro, a former staffer in another office, alleged she rubbed his back, grabbed his buttocks and tried to grab his groin at a legislative softball game in 2014. She denies the claims.

The allegations against Garcia mark a stunning twist to the California Legislature’s widening sexual harassment scandal that first broke open last fall and prompted two male assemblymen to resign. Garcia, a Democrat who represents southeast Los Angeles, chaired the Legislative Women’s Caucus until Wednesday, when her colleagues installed Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Eggman of Stockton, as the interim chair.

Garcia has been one of the most vocal critics against her colleagues and a staunch advocate of the #MeToo movement. She has authored numerous bills about sexual assault, activity and consent.

Tim Reardon, Garcia’s former chief of staff, said he never heard or was told that Garcia was discussing her sexual activities in the office. He said alcohol is occasionally present at the Capitol but drinking is never excessive.

“There are times in a lot of offices where someone will have wine or that nature,” he said. “But there has never been excessive drinking like it’s some kind of drinking party.”

The letter also alleges Garcia asked her staff to perform personal duties, such as taking care of her dogs, as well as campaign activities for her and other lawmakers. It alleges Garcia was “vindictive” toward staff and frequently disparaged other lawmakers.

Ashley Labar, her current chief of staff, denied the allegations.

“I’ve never seen the member engage in the behavior listed in the letter by Mr. Gilleon,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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Brussels on alert as furious MEP erupts over UK ambassador spat: 'EU must NOT build state'

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BRUSSELS has been warned not to pursue its federalist dream of a United States of Europe following a brutal spat with the UK over the diplomatic status of the EU ambassador to Britain.

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Puerto Rico Gov. Pierluisi seeks ‘equality’ in funding to tackle Covid, reconstruction

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Puerto Rico’s new governor, Pedro Pierluisi, was on a mission on his first trip to Washington, D.C. — to ensure that the U.S. territory of 3 million people is top of mind for Congress and the new administration.

“In Puerto Rico’s case, I believe that it’s very important to attract attention for positive reasons, not negative ones, so that they do not forget us and we are present in Washington’s agenda,” Pierluisi said, speaking in his native Spanish about his trip to the nation’s capital to attend President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Pierluisi, a Democrat who is the head of Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood party, stepped into office Jan. 2 after winning the first gubernatorial election on the island since Gov. Ricardo Rosselló resigned in 2019 after a political scandal that led to historic protests.

Pierluisi inherited an island still rebuilding after the destruction left by a string of strong earthquakes last year and Hurricane Maria in 2017 — the deadliest U.S.-based natural disaster in 100 years. The island has been grappling with the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

A vehicle drives through streets filled with floodwater past destroyed homes caused by Hurricane Maria in an aerial photograph taken above Barrio Obrero in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 25, 2017.Alex Wroblewski / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Pierluisi’s immediate priority is to manage the health and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed at least 1,447 people in Puerto Rico and infected over 82,500 others.

The island’s coronavirus vaccine distribution process was off to a bumpy start at the end of last year, but Pierluisi said Puerto Rico is now “distinguishing itself by being one of the jurisdictions that most quickly administers the vaccines we’re receiving.” Of the 270,000 vaccine doses the island has received, at least 220,000 have already been given. “The rest are in the process of distribution or administration,” he told NBC News.

Biden has already signed a series of executive orders to increase Covid-19 vaccinations, expand testing and reopen schools. Pierluisi said he expects that the island will have access to more vaccinations, “and that’s going to be good for Puerto Rico.”

Biden has also said he wants the majority of K-8 schools to reopen in his first 100 days, a goal Pierluisi shares with Biden and his nominee for education secretary, Miguel Cardona, who’s also Puerto Rican.

“The education of public school students in Puerto Rico has been very limited over the last year, and the educational lag they face has to be enormous. That’s a great concern for me,” Pierluisi said. “Also, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that face-to-face education be resumed, partially because it’s essential for the development of our children.”

A path to recovery

Aside from managing the pandemic, Pierluisi outlined his priority to ensure that the island’s government “becomes more agile” in using federal funds approved to rebuild after Maria, especially the $3.2 billion available through a federal grant program from the Department of Housing and Urban Development known as Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery. The funds have barely been used.

During the Trump administration, Housing Secretary Ben Carson awarded historic amounts of aid under the program for Puerto Rico to rebuild after Maria but then placed unique restrictions on the island, citing “alleged corruption” and “fiscal irregularities,” as well as “Puerto Rico’s capacity to manage these funds” as a first-time grantee. The efforts to limit Puerto Rico’s access to the funds came after the longest government shutdown in U.S. history initially halted the disbursement process in 2019.

Texas and Florida faced similar issues after hurricanes Harvey and Irma. However, their funds were not held up after the natural disasters, and they faced no additional restrictions, according to audits last year by the inspector general’s office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In a conversation with Biden’s team, Pierluisi urged the new administration to lift Trump-era requirements prohibiting the use of funds to help fix the island’s electrical grid, even though Congress promised $2 billion to rebuild it. He also called on it to lift restrictions on the use of HUD funds, which Biden had promised to remove in his plan for Puerto Rico.

“I’m not looking for Puerto Rico to get better treatment than other states. I’m asking for equality. We want the same treatment,” Pierluisi said.

Pushing for equal funding

Pierluisi is advocating for the island to have equal access to federal programs like Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Forty-four percent of the island’s population lives in poverty.

Even though the poverty rate in Puerto Rico is double that of Mississippi, the country’s poorest state, the federal government covers 55 cents of every dollar Puerto Rico spends on Medicaid, compared to 76 cents in Mississippi. That is because, unlike the 50 states — where Medicaid funding is open-ended — Puerto Rico has a limited spending cap, essentially a block grant, and the island has to pick up the rest of the costs.

In the 2019 fiscal year, the island’s Medicaid funding was capped at $367 million, while Medicaid expenditures totaled $2.7 billion, making it challenging to adjust to the population’s needs during the coronavirus crisis. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the federal program providing low-income families with financial assistance for food operates under similar restrictions in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico is fully excluded from the Earned Income Tax Credit, which has become one of the federal government’s largest antipoverty programs by providing tax credits for working families. It has also been excluded from Supplemental Security Income, a federal program that provides cash assistance to elderly, blind and disabled people with limited resources to meet basic living expenses.

Biden’s plan for Puerto Rico calls for providing funding parity under the programs. Pierluisi said it’s “my job now” — alongside Puerto Rico’s nonvoting member of Congress, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez — “to make sure they keep their word.” Gonzalez, a Republican, is also part of the island’s pro-statehood party.

To break cycles of poverty and boost economic development, Pierluisi proposes to improve the government’s system of granting business permits.

He also plans to add pressure on Congress over statehood after 52 percent of Puerto Ricans voted “yes” in November in a nonbinding statehood referendum, which directly asked voters whether Puerto Rico should immediately be admitted into the union as a state. Forty-seven percent of Puerto Ricans voted against it. His hope is that Congress will eventually support a binding statehood referendum.

Rebuilding the troubling power grid and the debt

Hurricane Maria triggered the collapse of Puerto Rico’s power grid, leading to the world’s second-longest blackout. Even after post-hurricane repairs were made, Puerto Ricans have been paying nearly double compared to U.S. mainland customers for unreliable service that often causes blackouts across the island.

Against that backdrop, Pierluisi inherited from the previous administration a $1.4 billion contract between Puerto Rico’s state-owned utility, PREPA, and the private company LUMA Energy to manage the island’s electricity transmission and distribution system for the next 15 years.



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Von der Leyen's Brexit dinner almost ended trade talks – 'EU sat in silence, arms folded'

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A BREXIT summit between Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen in December was “disastrous” and nearly led to a breakdown in trade talks, UK officials have privately admitted.

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