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Missouri Sen. McCaskill faces a strong GOP challenger and Trump

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He had just $1.2 million in the bank at the end of the year, compared to $9.1 million for McCaskill, who has a fundraiser featuring former President Barack Obama scheduled in Beverly Hills next month. McCaskill announced Monday that she hauled in another $3.9 million in the first quarter of 2018, while Hawley’s numbers for January, February and March haven’t yet been made public.

On top of that, Hawley’s been skipping county parties’ Lincoln Day dinners to avoid being on the same stage with Greitens — he doesn’t think it’s appropriate when he’s investigating the governor, but other Republicans say it’s a mistake to miss out on opportunities to energize his base before the election.

“His heart is not into the campaign the way it was two years ago,” lamented one fellow Republican elected official who asked to remain anonymous because he supports Hawley.

Missouri McCaskill, Washington McCaskill

For the 64-year-old McCaskill to win, political experts here say, she’ll have to run up the score with Democratic base voters in two vote-rich Democratic areas — St. Louis and Kansas City — swing working-class whites in their suburbs back into the Democratic column, and hold down Hawley’s margins in the rest of the state.

That’s a tall order for two reasons: Republicans in Missouri’s suburbs didn’t abandon Trump the way their counterparts did in some other areas of the country in 2016. And McCaskill has been hearing rumblings from the state’s African-American leaders that she hasn’t done enough for the black community.

“I’m going to vote for Claire, but Claire is going to have to bring her ass to St. Louis,” state Rep. Bruce Franks, an African-American lawmaker who gained attention as an activist during the Ferguson police shooting protests, said at a February town hall.

Even in a year in which anti-Trump sentiment is expected to drive Democratic voters to the polls in droves, McCaskill can ill-afford to lose any available votes in a state where her party has been hemorrhaging them for years. In 2008, Obama lost Missouri by less than two-tenths of a percentage point while racking up more than 1.4 million votes. Four years later, he got about 220,000 fewer votes. And Hillary Clinton, running in 2016, tallied about 371,000 fewer votes than Obama had in 2008.

Other than McCaskill in 2006, the last Democrat to win a midterm Senate election in Missouri was Tom Eagleton in 1974.

McCaskill’s other potential problem centers around her voting record, particularly her propensity to toe the Democratic line and vote against top Trump priorities.

Overall, the website FiveThirtyEight reports, McCaskill has voted with Trump 46.3 percent of the time. That ranks her sixth-highest among Senate Democrats.

But her score is far below the 83.8 percent of the time the website says McCaskill would be expected to back his position given his margin of victory in her state. Three other Democratic senators in tough races — Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana — register at more than 55 percent support for Trump.

McCaskill has always campaigned as a politician who has been independent from her party and has sought bipartisan solutions. An aide noted that she has sponsored, cosponsored or worked behind the scenes on more than 20 bills that Trump has signed into law. And she’s taken the lead on some high-profile legislative efforts, including a recent anti-sex-trafficking law she worked on with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

But Hawley said McCaskill’s reports of cross-aisle work in the Senate don’t match up to reality.

“There are unfortunately two different Claire McCaskills,” Hawley said in an interview with NBC News. “The real Claire McCaskill is the D.C. Claire McCaskill.”

The Trump Effect

The president remains popular in Missouri. A recent Morning Consult poll showed that 50 percent of registered voters in the state approve of him, while 45 percent don’t.

Trump endorsed Hawley last year, and during a speech to Hawley donors in St. Louis last month, Trump called Hawley “a wonderful guy…who knows what it’s all about,” according to an audio recording of the president’s remarks obtained by NBC News.

Trump got involved in the race early, taunting McCaskill in one Tweet delivered among an unrelated series about hurricane relief last August.

The combination of McCaskill’s efforts to demonstrate when she’s agreed with him and Hawley’s unwillingness to distance himself from the president suggest both sides understand the power of Trump’s appeal here.

For example, in an interview, Hawley declined to say whether he supports Trump’s new tariffs, which threaten to directly or indirectly hurt businesses like Anheuser-Busch and Boeing in St. Louis and the state’s many farmers.

“One of my top concerns is to ensure there is no retaliation against our agricultural community — including Missouri farmers — and that we are not punishing trade partners who do follow the rules in the process,” Hawley said. “Trade is good for Missouri workers and farmers when our trade partners follow the same rules we do.”

Hawley also declined to offer support for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a favorite target of Trump’s wrath, saying that the decision on whether the nation’s top law enforcement officer should keep his job is “up to the president.”

Hawley has said that Trump is welcome to visit the state any time, and Republicans here hope that the president will rally voters in the southern part of the state in the campaign’s home stretch.

“She’s always the underdog,” state Rep. Michael Butler, a Democrat who represents a St. Louis district, said of McCaskill. “But she thrives as the underdog.”



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N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Covid book deal worth more than $5.1 million

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is being paid more than $5.1 million for his book on leadership during the coronavirus crisis, his office said Monday.

The Democratic governor and his office had for months refused to disclose how much he was paid for the book “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic.”

State Attorney General Letitia James’ office has been investigating whether the governor misused state resources to write and promote the book.

The governor’s office released the book deal information Monday, when Cuomo released his taxes and filed his state financial disclosure form.

“The notable change from year to year is income from ‘American Crisis,'” Cuomo’s director of communications, Rich Azzopardi, said in a statement.

He said Cuomo was paid $3.12 million last year, and will be paid another $2 million over the next two years.

‎”Net income from the $3,120,000 million payment less expenses and taxes is $1,537,508,” Azzopardi said.

Of the remaining $1.5 million, Cuomo “donated a third to the United Way of New York State for state-wide COVID relief and vaccination effort, and is giving the remainder in a trust for his three daughters equally who worked with the Governor during this pandemic and did what he calls ‘tireless and effective work for all New Yorkers’ and gave him ‘the strength and love to make it through the crisis every day,’” Azzopardi said.

The sum Cuomo is getting from Crown publishing far exceeds the $225,000-a-year salary he makes as governor.

The book, which went on sale in October, has also landed Cuomo in legal trouble.

Last month, the state comptroller’s office authorized the state A.G. to investigate whether Cuomo used staffers and state resources to assist in writing the book, which is prohibited by state law.

Cuomo has insisted that any work by state employees on the book was voluntary. A spokesman has said any work on the book was “in compliance with state ethics laws and done on their personal time.”

James’s office is also investigating multiple sexual harassment allegations against the third-term governor.

Cuomo has denied touching anyone inappropriately, but acknowledged that he may have acted in ways that made people feel uncomfortable. He initially said that was unintentional and apologized, but has more recently said he’d done nothing wrong. He’s pushed back against calls from the vast majority of New York’s congressional delegation that he resign, saying he won’t bow to “cancel culture.”

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Biden tries to navigate shifting Democratic politics on Israel

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is facing down pressure from progressives to take a heavier hand with Israel amid its latest hostilities with the Palestinians.

While Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that Israel has “a special responsibility to protect civilians in the course of its self-defense,” U.S. officials have not called on their Israeli counterparts to alter or halt their response to Palestinian rocket fire.

That puts the administration at odds with the growing set of Democratic voters and elected officials who are casting a critical eye — and harsh language — at Israel. Those voices reflect a gradual but noticeable shift in the willingness of Democrats to challenge Israeli policy over the last dozen years.

“There is a desire for a more even-handed approach,” said Logan Bayroff, vice president of communications for J-Street, a progressive group that wants the U.S. government to call for an immediate cease-fire and to place new regulations on the nearly $4 billion in aid the U.S. sends each year to Israel. “The Biden administration, at this point in time, does not seem to have gotten that message.”

Hostilities have killed more than 200 people, most of them Palestinians, over the last week, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israelis Sunday that they should be ready for an extended military campaign.

Netanyahu is a political flashpoint within the Democratic Party. During the last Democratic administration, Netanyahu repeatedly thumbed his nose at President Barack Obama — going so far as to rail against the Iran nuclear deal from the House floor.

Then, when President Donald Trump took office in 2017, Netanyahu locked arms with his American counterpart. The two men shared an affinity for nationalist policies and rhetoric, and Trump encouraged Netanyahu to extend Israeli settlements into Palestinian-held territory.

Some progressives want Biden to step in and stop Netanyahu now, and to restrict his ability to use American cash and weapons to fight Palestinians.

“The United States should not stand idly by while crimes against humanity are being committed with our backing,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said in a statement to NBC News. “It would be appalling for the Biden administration to go through with $735 million in precision-guided weaponry to Netanyahu without any strings attached in the wake of escalating violence and attacks on civilians.”

That sale, first reported by The Washington Post, was approved by Biden this month.

“If this goes through, this will be seen as a green light for continued escalation and will undercut any attempts at brokering a cease-fire,” Omar said.

Omar, elected in 2018, is among a relatively junior set of frequent Israel critics in Congress. What concerns veteran Israel hawks in the Democratic Party is that more moderate lawmakers are publicly questioning Israel’s actions.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and one of Israel’s strongest supporters on Capitol Hill, said in a statement over the weekend that there must be a “full accounting” of strikes that led to civilian deaths.

“I am deeply troubled by reports of Israeli military actions that resulted in the death of innocent civilians in Gaza as well as Israeli targeting of buildings housing international media outlets,” Menendez said.

“In response to thousands of rocket attacks fired by Hamas aimed at civilians, Israel has every right to self-defense from terrorists committed to wipe her off the face of the map,” he added. “But no matter how dangerous and real that threat may be, I have always believed the strength of the U.S.-Israeli relationship flourishes when it is based on the shared values of democracy, freedom, pluralism, and respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

A group of Jewish House Democrats last week released a letter to Biden in which they wrote “the United States cannot simply hope and wait for the situation to improve” with “more lives being lost each day.”

Jeremy Bash, a Democrat who served as chief of staff to the defense secretary during the Obama administration, said his party is still fundamentally pro-Israel. He noted that the basic outlines of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians have not changed much in recent years, even as the issue has become more politically fraught within Democratic circles.

“It shouldn’t be, and it’s wrong,” Bash said. “I do worry that it has become that.”

But while the Biden administration has stopped the U.N. Security Council from adopting any policy or statement about the conflict, one former Obama administration national security official said the White House’s effort to at least placate fellow Democrats was evident in Blinken’s remark about Israel’s burden of adhering to a higher standard of protecting civilians.

“You don’t have to parse the language,” the former Obama aide said. “It’s the fact that he said it about Israel, period.”

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Irish Taoiseach launches Brexit attack after showdown with Boris: 'Damage can't be undone'

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BREXIT is a “major step backwards” the damage from which “cannot be undone”, Ireland’s Taoiseach has declared in a blunt assessment of Britain’s decision to quit the bloc, after his crunch meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

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