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Pennsylvania Supreme Court issues new congressional map, which could benefit Dems



Pennsylvania’s high court issued a new congressional district map for the state’s 2018 elections Monday, the latest attempt to carve out voting boundaries in time for the state’s May 15 primary.

The map, approved in a 4-3 decision by the Democratic-majority state Supreme Court, is expected to give Democrats a better shot at winning seats in Philadelphia’s heavily populated and moderate suburbs, where Republicans had held seats in bizarrely contorted districts, including one labeled “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck.”

Republican lawmakers were expected to quickly challenge the map in federal court, arguing that legislatures and governors, not courts, have the constitutional responsibility to draw congressional maps.

Meanwhile, sitting congressmen, dozens of would-be candidates and millions of voters have to sort out which district they live in barely a month before the candidates’ deadline to submit paperwork to run.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, applauded the court’s map, which he described as an “effort to remedy Pennsylvania’s unfair and unequal congressional elections.”

“Over the last month, I have personally heard from thousands of Pennsylvanians and they are sick and tired of gerrymandering, which perpetuates gridlock, alienates citizens and stifles reform,” Wolf said in a statement. “I have stood for fairness and rejected a proposed map that was universally seen as another partisan gerrymander.”

The court ruled last month in a 5-2 party line decision that the district boundaries drafted by the GOP-led legislature unconstitutionally put partisan interests above neutral line-drawing criteria, such as keeping districts compact and eliminating municipal and county divisions.

Republicans 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 decision is the first time a state court threw out congressional boundaries in a partisan gerrymandering case and handed a victory to the group of registered Democratic voters who sued last June in a lawsuit backed by the League of Women Voters.

Candidates can start circulating petitions to run in their new district in a little over a week, Feb. 27. Pennsylvania has seen a surge in interest in running for Congress with six incumbents elected in 2016 not running again — the most in four decades — and Democrats vehemently opposing President Donald Trump.

The new map will not apply to the March 13 special congressional election in southwestern Pennsylvania’s 18th District between Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb.

Fox News’ Bill Mears and Michelle Chavez contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

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Ron Klain has one of the busiest jobs in D.C. — and one of the most active Twitter feeds, too



WASHINGTON — Last July 30, then-President Donald Trump suggested on Twitter that the date of the presidential election be changed. It was just one of hundreds of seemingly spurious presidential thoughts to be given a public airing on social media, but on that occasion, it was met with a rare response from the Democratic presidential nominee in a tweet of his own.

“You won’t have to worry about my tweets when I’m president,” Joe Biden promised.

Now, six weeks into the Biden administration, it’s not the president but his White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, whose online activity is generating the most intrigue in Washington.

For a White House that prides itself, so far, on being light on leaks and staying mostly on message, Klain’s frequent tweets can at times offer rare insight into the thinking and priorities of the Biden West Wing.

Klain may have one of the busiest and most demanding jobs in Washington, but he is tweeting, retweeting and liking posts seemingly all hours of the day, setting off cellphone screens across Washington an average of 60 times a day, according to an NBC News review of his Twitter use.

Klain “likes” tweets more than he posts his own or retweets others’ postings. But looking solely at his tweets and retweets from the inauguration on Jan. 20 through late February, he’s posted 1,264 times — an average of about 34 times a day. By comparison, White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted a total of only 43 times in the same 37-day stretch.

Trump himself averaged about 140 tweets per month in his first 100 days, according to an NBC News analysis at the time.

Most of Klain’s tweets — about 40 percent — are retweets from journalists or news organizations who post about the work of the administration. He also amplifies other Biden administration officials’ tweets, including @POTUS, accounting for about 1 in 5 tweets. His own tweets are heavy on Covid-19 messaging, or general “cheerleading” the administration’s work.

One of his most popular tweets so far, according to NBC’s review, was actually a message responding to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who ironically tweeted one weekend morning about being relieved not to see “mean” tweets from the White House. “Quick tweet to say we’re working at the WH today on next steps in the COVID response,” Klain wrote. “Enjoy your toast.”

He’s also used Twitter to communicate with lawmakers on Capitol Hill — mostly Democrats, but also several Republicans. After Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia sent Klain a letter raising concerns about a regulatory freeze the administration had imposed, Klain responded first on Twitter, promising to look into the issue.

White House officials say Klain alone manages his account, neither taking direction from nor seeking input from his communications, political or digital strategy teams. But they say Klain sees his engagement on the platform as a means of encouraging for his staff, promoting the White House’s message and engaging with constituencies across the political spectrum, especially progressive activists.

“He’s been working for the president on and off for decades. He knows his thinking, knows his priorities, knows what he cares about. So certainly what he’s projecting and communicating about is reflective of what we’re focused on internally day to day,” Psaki said. “But it isn’t done through hours of navigation. It’s just done to ensure we’re using all the levers at our disposal to communicate with the public, even if we don’t think it’s the only way to communicate with the public.”

During last year’s campaign, Biden’s team had what could be called a like-hate relationship with the platform, regularly attacking Trump’s tweeting and regularly reminding reporters and pundits that “Twitter is not real life.” Often, though, they bluntly vented their frustration on the same forum, challenging reporters and activists they felt put too much stock in the hot takes of the “blue check” crowd (after Twitter’s verification symbol) and not nearly enough in more Biden-friendly, but more off-line constituencies.

Now, Biden officials see Klain’s Twitter account as one of their main messaging channels to progressive forces they see as a key part of their governing coalition. For example, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee features one of Klain’s tweets in a new cable TV ad slated to begin airing in Washington, D.C. on Friday.

“Clearly his preference is to have everyone bought in and fighting alongside each other,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “I see Ron’s twitter engagement as an extension of his larger ethos of lifting up some progressive ideas and keeping lines of communication very open. It sends a signal.”

As they turned from the campaign to governing, Biden’s digital team encouraged everyone from the most junior staff to the most senior Cabinet members to create their own accounts — a contrast to the Obama administration, where official Twitter accounts were more sparing.

“We decided pretty early on we want people engaging on Twitter,” said Rob Flaherty, the White House digital director. “It’s not because we think Twitter is real life suddenly, but because the news cycle sort of just sort of billows out there and having more voices there is better.”

Officials with Twitter accounts do receive occasional messaging guidance, but the digital team is otherwise hands off and not managing most individual accounts.

Flaherty said Klain put a lot of thought into how he’d use his official account. He chose to create “@WHCOS,” rather than the formulation most officials used of their own name followed by “46,” so that it could be an account passed on to his successors in the same way @PressSec has been transferred from press secretary to press secretary.

It’s unlikely any future chief of staff would tweet as often as Klain. Most other members of Biden’s inner circle not only don’t tweet, but don’t even have accounts.

But Psaki insisted Klain’s tweeting was not impeding his work.

“Twitter is very quick,” she said. “You can tweet something in about 20 seconds, so it is not a big use of time, but it remains still an effective tool.”

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Biden criticizes Texas, Mississippi for lifting mask mandates



WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden criticized the decisions in Texas and Mississippi to roll back statewide mask mandates and other Covid-19 health guidelines as “Neanderthal thinking.”

“I think it’s a big mistake. Look, I hope everybody realizes by now that masks make a big difference. We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because the way in which we are able to get vaccines,” Biden told reporters.

“The last thing we need is the Neanderthal thinking that, in the meantime, everything is fine, take off our mask, forget it,” he added.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that it was “now time to open Texas 100 percent,” citing the economic impact of the virus. Shortly after Abbott’s announcement, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said that he would also end his state’s mask mandate. Both governors are Republicans.

The governors’ decision came just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that relaxing the guidelines could cause cases to trend upward again.

Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser for Covid-19 response, said Wednesday that the Biden administration was “using the absolute full extent of all of the areas where we have federal control” to enforce health guidelines and that they were “actively being very, very clear on what we think needs to happen.”

“We hope that other elected officials who have the authority in their domains will, in fact, listen,” he said.

Biden said that the U.S. risks thousands of more deaths to Covid-19 if Americans drop basic guidelines to stop the spread, including masks and social distancing.

“It is critical, critical, critical that they follow the science,” Biden said of the governors.

Biden announced Tuesday that the U.S. is expected to have enough doses of the three authorized Covid-19 vaccines for every American adult by the end of May, two months earlier than previous estimates. He credited the sped-up timeline to the administration’s efforts to ramp up the production and distribution of the vaccine.

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The Seuss debate shows Republicans’ cancel culture war is a fight against the free market



Republicans have long declared their supposedly unwavering obeisance to the great invisible hand of the market; as former House GOP Leader Dick Armey liked to say, “Markets are smart; government is dumb.”

And yet several recent moments have made that commitment seem situational. Whether discussing Dr. Seuss, Mr. Potato Head, voting rights or Twitter, Republicans seem ill at ease with — or just ignorant of — the ways the mighty market actually functions.

Just witness the contrived hysteria about the fabricated “cancellation” of Dr. Seuss, the beloved children’s books author. Dr. Seuss Enterprises — the very profitable company which controls the estate of the late Theodor Seuss Geisel, the man behind the pen name — has decided of its own free will to stop publishing a half-dozen of his books because, the company told The Associated Press, they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” deploying stereotypes about Black and Asian people in a manner that Seuss’s own estate thinks is offensive and inappropriate.

The Fox outrage machine revved itself to high dudgeon over how this private company has decided to conduct its business, bemoaning the Seussian scalp-taking; the GOP’s culture-war ambulance chasers quickly followed suit. “First, they outlaw Dr. Seuss” — mind you, Theodore Geisel died in 1991 and its his own estate taking this action — “and now they want to tell us what to say,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a mendacious non sequitur while debating proposed election law reforms.

The GOP is trying to use the heavy hand of government to pick and choose who can be a consumer rather than responding to their will.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted that the spurious Seuss-squelching — again, the company that owns the rights to his work is opting not to continue publishing a handful of them moving forward — will prompt history books to see this era as “an example of a depraved sociopolitical purge driven by hysteria and lunacy.”

Someone is demonstrating hysteria and lunacy, but it’s not who Rubio suggests.

Let’s get some perspective here: Seuss Enterprises made $33 million last year, more than 650 million of his books have been sold around the world and they’re available in more than 100 countries. There is no significant move — and certainly not from Seuss Enterprises — to ban, burn or otherwise cancel Dr. Seuss. A private company has made a considered business decision by pulling a small fraction of the Seuss catalog (none among its top sellers).

Exactly why is this any of the business of the federal government? Surely Republicans, who supposedly believe the government should interfere in private business decisions as little as possible, don’t think the market should cease to work its infallible will; surely if Seuss Enterprises is erring and catering to a political correctness that nobody wants, market forces will correct it. (Of course, the right-wing cancel chorus isn’t holding its breath for that to happen; neither should you. Most people weren’t buying these particular books in the first place.)

Or take the tale of Mr. Potato Head, the brand of children’s toy under which both Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head dolls have long been marketed by Hasbro. Last week, Hasbro announced that this entire universe of toys will henceforth be marketed under the brand “Potato Head” — though the titular couple will still be “Mr.” and “Mrs.” — and conservatives lost their collective minds, including some on Capitol Hill, where some Republicans weren’t going to let facts get in the way of their feelings.

The right’s growing disillusionment with free markets might have to do with the markets’ drift away from the right.

Glenn Beck assessed the true import of the Seuss/Potato Head decisions in typically florid fashion: “Buy Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head because it’s the end of an era,” he said Wednesday. “It is the end of freedom in America.”

But, again: If Hasbro thinks it makes more sense to sell a Mrs. Potato Head doll as part of a “Potato Head” brand, rather than a “Mr. Potato Head” brand — and it does — isn’t that a company’s right? And if the company’s wrong, the market will tell them, with no right-wing outrage machine trying to cancel their decision necessary.

So what’s going on?

Perhaps looking to voting rights can help sharpen the picture. In a Supreme Court hearing on Tuesday over whether a restrictive Arizona law unconstitutionally discriminates against minorities, Republican National Committee lawyer Michael Carvin told the court that striking down the law — making it easier to vote — would put the GOP “at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats.”

It was a startling if not surprising admission. Republicans have lost the presidential popular vote in seven of the last eight elections — or to put it another way, they have been losing political market share. But instead of adjusting their product (their candidates and policies) or how they sell it (their messaging), the GOP increasingly relies on government interference to maintain power, including the distortionary nature of the Electoral College and the U.S. Senate (which is evenly split despite the fact that Democrats represent 41 million more constituents), radical gerrymandering and restrictive voting laws, like Arizona’s.

Conservatives may not like which market forces companies respond to, but in a free market, that’s not their call.

But it’s not just anti-democratic (or anti-Republican) to try to reduce the system’s responsiveness to the will of the people; it’s anti-market. The GOP is, in effect, trying to use the heavy hand of government to pick and choose who can be a consumer rather than responding to their will.

In other words, the right’s growing disillusionment with free markets might have to do with the markets’ drift away from the right.

Companies are taking a more holistic view of what factors drive their decisions. For instance, the Business Roundtable — hardly a bastion of AOC stans and Bernie bros — announced in 2019 that the purpose of a corporation extended beyond strict adherence to the bottom line and includes “all stakeholders — customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders.”

Conservatives may not like which market forces companies respond to, but in a free market, that’s not their call. But in a less free market, they believe, maybe it could be.

Which brings us to former president Donald Trump. Speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend, he repeated his oft-made claim that social media is part of a giant conspiracy to censor and silence conservatives. “Republicans, conservatives must … repeal Section 230 liability protections,” Trump told the crowd, to extended cheers. (Section 230 actually protects internet companies from liability from lawsuits for what gets published by others on their platforms, not from what they remove; ending it would, ironically, result in more content being removed, not less.)

“And if the federal government refuses to act,” he said, “then every state in the union where we have the votes, which is a lot of them, Big Tech giants, like Twitter, Google and Facebook, should be punished with major sanctions whenever they silence conservative voices.”

Never mind that Facebook has long catered to conservatives or that it wasn’t conservatism that got Trump a lifetime Twitter ban but seditious, insurrectionist lies. Trump called for — and conservatives cheered — more regulation of and lawsuits against private companies based on their market-based business decisions, and for the limited-government party to unleash the power of federal and state governments to punish those companies for how they choose to conduct their businesses.

In a free market in which Twitter was making bad business decisions, users would punish it by switching to Parler or Gab. Most, of course, have not done that; the idea that most users want more abuse, more violent rhetoric or more conspiracy theories proliferating on their social platforms is absurd. So conservatives want to find a way for the government to force companies to feed it to us anyway.

In the end the biggest victim of cancel culture might just be conservative principles.

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