Republicans Assail New York Prosecutor Investigating Trump

Republican lawmakers on Monday assailed the New York Democratic prosecutor investigating former President Donald Trump in connection with his alleged $130,000 hush money payment to a porn star ahead of the 2016 election.

Three committee chairmen in the House of Representatives accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of prosecutorial misconduct and demanded that he provide them information and documents related to his investigation of Trump.

The former president said over the weekend that he expects to be arrested in the case on Tuesday, although the prosecutor has made no public announcement indicating whether Trump would be indicted or when. Trump called for protests if he is indicted, and New York officials have been coordinating with federal security agencies to handle any unrest near the courthouse in New York.

Trump would be the first former U.S. president ever charged with a criminal offense.

He also faces wide-ranging investigations by a Justice Department special counsel and a state prosecutor in the southern state of Georgia for his role in trying to upend his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden to stay in power.

Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith is also probing Trump’s role in fomenting the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol as lawmakers met to certify Biden’s victory and how Trump kept classified documents at his Florida estate after leaving office, rather than turning them over to the National Archives as he was required by law to do.

The New York probe stems from the $130,000 paid to adult star Stormy Daniels by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to guarantee her silence just ahead of the 2016 election about the one-night sexual encounter she claims to have had with Trump, an allegation he has long denied. Cohen has said that Trump approved the payment and then reimbursed him, saying it was for legal expenses.

“You are reportedly about to engage in an unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority: the indictment of a former president of the United States,” the Republican committee chairmen said in their letter to Bragg.

“This indictment comes after years of your office searching for a basis — any basis — on which to bring charges,” they added.

The letter was signed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer and House Administration Committee Chairman Bryan Steil.

Democrats rebuffed the criticism of the Trump investigation, with Representative Daniel Goldman saying on Twitter, “Defending Trump is not a legitimate legislative purpose for Congress to investigate a state district attorney.”

“Congress has no jurisdiction to investigate the Manhattan DA, which receives no federal funding nor has any other federal nexus,” said Goldman, who was lead counsel in a 2019 House impeachment of Trump.

Trump announced his intention to seek the 2024 Republican presidential nomination months ago and says he would keep campaigning even if he is charged with a criminal offense. Numerous national polls show him as the front-runner for the Republican nomination, although several other Republicans have either announced their own candidacies or said they are seriously considering a race against Trump.

Trump was impeached twice during his presidency, once in 2019 over his conduct demanding Ukraine investigate Biden, and again in 2021 over the attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters. He was acquitted by the Senate both times.

Pro-Moscow Voices Tried to Steer Ohio Train Disaster Debate

Soon after a train derailed and spilled toxic chemicals in Ohio last month, anonymous pro-Russian accounts started spreading misleading claims and anti-American propaganda about it on Twitter, using Elon Musk’s new verification system to expand their reach while creating the illusion of credibility.

The accounts, which parroted Kremlin talking points on myriad topics, claimed without evidence that authorities in Ohio were lying about the true impact of the chemical spill. The accounts spread fearmongering posts that preyed on legitimate concerns about pollution and health effects and compared the response to the derailment with America’s support for Ukraine following its invasion by Russia.

Some of the claims pushed by the pro-Russian accounts were verifiably false, such as the suggestion that the news media had covered up the disaster or that environmental scientists traveling to the site had been killed in a plane crash. But most were more speculative, seemingly designed to stoke fear or distrust. Examples include unverified maps showing widespread pollution, posts predicting an increase in fatal cancers, and others about unconfirmed mass animal die-offs.

“Biden offers food, water, medicine, shelter, payouts of pension and social services to Ukraine! Ohio first! Offer and deliver to Ohio!” posted one of the pro-Moscow accounts, which boasts 25,000 followers and features an anonymous location and a profile photo of a dog. Twitter awarded the account a blue check mark in January.

Social accounts spread propaganda

Regularly spewing anti-U.S. propaganda, the accounts show how easily authoritarian states and Americans willing to spread their propaganda can exploit social media platforms like Twitter to steer domestic discourse.

The accounts were identified by Reset, a London-based nonprofit that studies social media’s impact on democracy and shared with The Associated Press. Felix Kartte, a senior advisor at Reset, said the report’s findings indicate Twitter is allowing Russia to use its platform like a bullhorn.

“With no one at home in Twitter’s product safety department, Russia will continue to meddle in U.S. elections and in democracies around the world,” Kartte said.

Twitter did not respond to messages seeking comment for this story.

The 38-car derailment near East Palestine, Ohio, released toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, leading to a national debate over rail safety and environmental regulations while raising fears of poisoned drinking water and air.

The disaster was a major topic on social media, with millions of mentions on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, according to an analysis by San Francisco-based media intelligence firm Zignal Labs, which conducted a study on behalf of the AP.

Online comments try to affect opinions

At first, the derailment received little attention online but mentions grew steadily, peaking two weeks after the incident, Zignal found, a time lag that gave pro-Russia voices time to try to shape the conversation.

The accounts identified by Reset’s researchers received an extra boost from Twitter itself, in the form of a blue check mark. Before Musk purchased Twitter last year, its check marks denoted accounts run by verified users, often public figures, celebrities or journalists. It was seen as a mark of authenticity on a platform known for bots and spam accounts.

Musk ended that system and replaced it with Twitter Blue, which is given to users who pay $8 per month and supply a phone number. Twitter Blue users agree not to engage in deception and are required to post a profile picture and name. But there’s no rule that they use their own.

Under the program, Twitter Blue users can write and send longer tweets and videos. Their replies are also given higher priority in other posts.

The AP reached out to several of the accounts listed in Reset’s report. In response, one of the accounts sent a two-word message before blocking the AP reporter on Twitter: “Shut up.”

While researchers spotted clues suggesting some of the accounts are linked to coordinated efforts by Russian disinformation agencies, others were Americans, showing the Kremlin doesn’t always have to pay to get its message out.

One account, known as Truth Puke, is connected to a website of the same name geared toward conservatives in the United States. Truth Puke regularly reposts Russian state media; RT, formerly known as Russia Today, is one of its favorite groups to repost, Reset found. One video posted by the account features ex-President Donald Trump’s remarks about the train derailment, complete with Russian subtitles.

In a response to questions from the AP, Truth Puke said it aims to provide a “wide spectrum of views” and was surprised to be labeled a spreader of Russian propaganda, despite the account’s heavy use of such material. Asked about the video with Russian subtitles, Truth Puke said it used the Russian language version of the Trump video for the sake of expediency.

“We can assure you that it was not done with any Russian propagandist intent in mind, we just like to put out things as quickly as we find them,” the company said.

Other accounts brag of their love for Russia. One account on Thursday reposted a bizarre claim that the U.S. was stealing humanitarian earthquake relief supplies donated to Syria by China. The account has 60,000 followers and is known as Donbass Devushka, after the region of Ukraine.

Another pro-Russian account recently tried to pick an online argument with Ukraine’s defense department, posting photos of documents that it claimed came from the Wagner Group, a private military company owned by a Yevgeny Prigozhin, a key Putin ally. Prigozhin operates troll farms that have targeted U.S. social media users in the past. Last fall he boasted of his efforts to meddle with American democracy.

A separate Twitter account claiming to represent Wagner actively uses the site to recruit fighters.

“Gentlemen, we have interfered, are interfering and will interfere,” Prigozhin said last fall on the eve of the 2022 midterm elections in the U.S. “Carefully, precisely, surgically and in our own way, as we know how to do.” 

Defamation Case Against Fox News Proceeds Toward Trial

A $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit filed against Fox News, the most-watched cable television network in the United States, and its parent company, Fox Corp., will go to trial next month in a case that has enormous implications for the media conglomerate and journalism in general.

In the days and weeks that followed the 2020 presidential election, conservative news organizations, including Fox News, repeatedly aired claims that the election results were fraudulent. Several conservative and far-right networks, including Fox News and One America News Network (OANN), gave significant airtime to numerous supporters of then-President Donald Trump, who spun elaborate conspiracy theories claiming that electronic voting machines manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems had been programmed to rig the vote count in favor of Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

Those claims were systematically proven false in court proceedings and hand recounts of the election results in multiple U.S. states. But Dominion was condemned by members of the public and politicians who believed what they heard on Fox News. One Dominion executive was forced into hiding after receiving death threats.

In response, Dominion pursued several defamation lawsuits targeting high-profile Trump supporters who had pushed the false claims of election fraud in national media. Among those sued were Rudy Giuliani, a former mayor of New York and a onetime personal attorney to Trump; Mike Lindell, CEO of My Pillow; attorney Sidney Powell; and CEO Patrick Byrne.

Dominion also sued OANN and far-right cable news network Newsmax.

Internal Fox communications

While some news organizations responded to Dominion’s lawsuits by retracting their stories, Fox News and Fox Corp. elected to fight.

As part of the lawsuit, Dominion demanded and received access to the internal communications of Fox executives. A wide range of text messages and emails from senior Fox executives and well-known on-air personalities that have been made public strongly suggest they knew the claims about Dominion were likely false, but continued to spread them anyway.

In one representative exchange from November 2020, Tucker Carlson, the network’s highest-rated host, wrote to fellow anchor Laura Ingraham, “Sidney Powell is lying by the way. I caught her. It’s insane.”

Ingraham responded. “Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy.”

Other Fox employees connected to its various programs also expressed their belief in text and emails that the claims raised by Powell, Giuliani and others were false or unsupported by evidence. Hosts of popular Fox prime-time programs criticized on-air Fox journalists who reported that the claims against Dominion were false.

A number of emails from the network’s senior executives suggest they were concerned that if they stopped broadcasting claims of election fraud, or actively debunked the ones being made by their on-air guests, they would lose audience share to outlets that pushed the false claims.

Libel law

Experts say the Dominion lawsuit against Fox News is remarkable in several ways, most notably that it is going to trial at all given the strong press protections guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“These major defamation cases against major media companies are almost never brought in the United States, because the constitutional standard is so strict, and the hurdle that has to be cleared is so high,” RonNell Andersen Jones, a professor of law at the University of Utah, told VOA.

In the U.S., public figures who sue for defamation must prove that the news organization who published the false information acted with “actual malice.”

“It’s a state-of-mind standard that climbs inside the head of the people who were responsible for the creation of the broadcast and requires the demonstration that they had subjective awareness of the probable falsity of what they said,” said Andersen Jones, who is also an affiliated fellow with Yale Law School’s Information Society Project.

“It’s really, really hard to do,” she added. “This is the rare case in which they have compiled this body of evidence from inside the organization, internally recognizing the falsity of the assertion, at the very time that these statements were being broadcast. And you just don’t get that.”

Senior management aware

The internal Fox communications, as well as depositions by senior executives, also bolster Dominion’s case that claims about the company were broadly understood to be false within the Fox organization.

Former Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who is on the board of directors of Fox Corporation, testified that in the weeks following the election, he repeatedly told corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch and Fox Corporation founder and chairman Rupert Murdoch that Fox News needed to “move on from Donald Trump and stop spouting election lies.”

In a deposition, Rupert Murdoch appeared to acknowledge that top on-air personalities Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro had gone beyond simply reporting on allegations about Dominion and had “endorsed” them.

“I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it in hindsight,” Murdoch said.

Asked if he could have issued an order directing that programming at Fox News cease repeating falsehoods about Dominion, Murdoch said, “I could have. But I didn’t.”

The court documents that were released to the public are heavily redacted in some parts, apparently at the request of Fox. Often, the context surrounding the redactions suggests that the material blacked out is helpful to Dominion and harmful to the network. The New York Times, The Associated Press and National Public Radio have filed suit, demanding fuller access to the contents of the court filings.

Fox defense

In its defense, Fox has claimed that in mentioning the false allegations against Dominion, it was reporting on newsworthy events, particularly the statements of Trump, who frequently voiced the claims in the weeks following the election.

The “press has a right to cover and comment on newsworthy allegations of newsworthy figures,” the network argued in a brief seeking to have the case dismissed.

Its attorneys focused on the instances in which Fox News hosts treated the allegations with caution or doubt.

“Far from reporting the allegations as true, hosts informed their audiences at every turn that the allegations were just allegations that would need to be proven in court in short order if they were going to impact the outcome of the election,” the brief filed on the network’s behalf said. “And to the extent some hosts commented on the allegations, that commentary is independently protected opinion.”

Fox News has also attacked the Dominion complaint as incomplete and misleading.

“Dominion has mischaracterized the record, cherry-picked quotes stripped of key context and spilled considerable ink on facts that are irrelevant under black-letter principles of defamation law,” the network said in a statement.

Ethical questions raised

Journalism experts said they were particularly troubled by the evidence presented in the case suggesting that senior executives at Fox News and on-air hosts appeared to argue that the network should avoid reporting facts about the election because doing so would lead to a decline in viewership.

“It certainly raises questions about how the value of an audience is driving this particular outlet’s — and possibly other outlets’ — editorial decision making,” Kathleen Bartzen Culver, a professor and director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told VOA.

“Some of these texts really think about the audience in a monetized way, and if that is influencing what we will cover, that is far afield from journalism in the public interest,” she added.

Ethics aside, Culver said she was stunned at the openness with which Fox executives and personalities discussed their concerns about the veracity of their news coverage in emails and texts.

“No one at Fox News thinks that their communications would be discoverable?” she said. “I find that either wildly naive or wildly arrogant. I’m not sure which.”

Ironic coincidence

There is considerable irony at play in the fact that Fox News, the dominant conservative news outlet in the U.S., is the target of a libel suit that experts say has a plausible path to success.

For years, prominent Republicans, most notably Trump, have railed against the severity of the actual malice standard, arguing that the bar it sets is so high that it effectively leaves people who are victims of inaccurate coverage with no recourse to the courts.

Many conservatives, who generally believe the mainstream media have a liberal bias and direct more negative coverage at them, have called for a relaxation of the standard that would make it easier to successfully sue media organizations. Two conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court — Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch — have called on the court to revisit New York Times v. Sullivan, the 1964 case that established the standard.

Protection for actual malice

Kevin M. Lerner, chair of the Department of Communication at Marist College, told VOA that he has been surprised to see other news organizations lining up in support of Dominion, and believes it might be because many see the case as potentially drawing a red line between what the First Amendment allows and what it does not.

“In the past in defamation suits, most news organizations would support the news organization, even if it was a rival or someone they didn’t agree with,” he said. “It’s a sort of, ‘There but for the grace of God go we’ kind of argument.”

Now, Lerner said, “I think there may really be something different here, seeing that media organizations are saying, ‘No, this is actually going to help protect the First Amendment, by saying you can’t deliberately spread falsehoods. That’s not what the First Amendment is for.'”

He said there appears to be some hope among news organizations that a successful high-profile defamation suit might cause activists to “back off” on efforts to loosen the actual malice standard.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell Hospitalized After Fall

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has been hospitalized after tripping at a local hotel on Wednesday evening, a spokesman for the senator said. 

The Kentucky senator, 81, was attending a private dinner in Washington when he tripped. He was admitted to a hospital for treatment, spokesman Doug Andres said. 

McConnell’s office did not provide additional detail on his condition or how long he may be absent from the Senate.  

In 2019, the GOP leader tripped and fell at his home in Kentucky, suffering a shoulder fracture. At the time, he underwent surgery to repair the fracture in his shoulder. The Senate had just started a summer recess and he worked from home for some weeks as he recovered. 

First elected in 1984, McConnell in January became the longest-serving Senate leader when the new Congress convened, breaking the previous record of 16 years. 

The taciturn McConnell is often reluctant to discuss his private life. But at the start of the COVID-19 crisis he opened up about his early childhood experience fighting polio. He described how his mother insisted that he stay off his feet as a toddler and worked with him through a determined physical therapy regime. He has acknowledged some difficulty in adulthood climbing stairs. 

The Senate, where the average age is 65, has been without several members recently due to illness. 

Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., 53, who suffered a stroke during his campaign last year, was expected to remain out for some weeks as he received care for clinical depression.  

And Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., 89, said last week that she had been hospitalized to be treated for shingles. 

The Democratic absences have proven a challenge for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who is already navigating a very narrow 51-49 majority.  

The Republicans, as the minority party, have had an easier time with intermittent absences. It is unclear if McConnell will be out on Thursday and if that would have an effect on scheduled votes. South Dakota Sen. John Thune is the Senate’s No. 2 Republican. 

Biden to Unveil Budget Proposal

U.S. President Joe Biden is set to unveil his budget proposal for fiscal 2024 during a visit Thursday to the state of Pennsylvania.

“The president will deliver remarks on his plans to invest in America, continue to lower costs for families, protect and strengthen Social Security and Medicare, reduce the deficit, and more,” the White House said ahead of the event in Philadelphia.

Part of Biden’s proposal is to raise taxes on the wealthy to help pay for his plans.

The White House has already announced that part of the budget proposal includes an increase in Medicare taxes for incomes above $400,000 a year and allowing Medicare to negotiate better prices for prescription drugs to bolster the federal health insurance program for older Americans and certain people with disabilities.

Republicans in Congress expressed opposition to the president’s Medicare plan, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell predicting it had no chance of approval in the Republican-held House of Representatives.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

Marianne Williamson Launches Longshot 2024 Challenge to Biden

Self-help author Marianne Williamson, whose 2020 White House campaign featured calls for spiritual healing, launched another bid for the presidency on Saturday, becoming the first Democrat to formally challenge President Joe Biden for the 2024 nomination.

“We are upset about this country, we’re worried about this country,” Williamson told a crowd of more than 600 at a kickoff in the nation’s capital. “It is our job to create a vision of justice and love that is so powerful that it will override the forces of hatred and injustice and fear.”

The 70-year-old onetime spiritual adviser to Oprah Winfrey should provide only token primary opposition — a testament to how strongly national Democrats are united behind Biden. Still, she tweaked the president, a longtime Amtrak rider, by holding her opening rally at the ornately marble-columned presidential suite at Union Station, Washington’s railway hub.

Biden gave his own speech from Union Station just before last November’s elections, when he led Democrats to a surprisingly strong showing, urging voters to reject political extremism and saying “democracy itself” was at stake.

Williamson, whose red, blue and black campaign signs feature the dual slogans “A New Beginning” and “Disrupt the System,” said she’ll be campaigning in early-voting states on the 2024 election calendar.

That includes New Hampshire, which has threatened to defy a Biden-backed plan by the Democratic National Committee to have South Carolina lead off the nominating contests. Democrats and Republicans in New Hampshire have warned that if Biden skips the state’s unsanctioned primary and a rival wins it, that outcome could prove embarrassing for the sitting president — even if that challenger has no real shot of becoming the nominee.

Striking a defiant tone Saturday, Williamson denounced “those who feel they are the adults in the room” and aren’t taking her candidacy seriously, proclaiming, “Let me in there.”

“I have run for president before. I am not naive about these forces which have no intention of allowing anyone into this conversation who does not align with their predetermined agenda,” she said. “I understand that, in their mind, only people who previously have been entrenched in the car that brought us into this ditch can possibly be considered qualified to bring us out of it.”

Luke Stowell, 20, a musician and student at American University in Washington who sat in the front row for Williamson’s announcement, said “she has a really nice message that incorporates all of the prejudices and the social structures that inhibit, I think, a lot of people on a daily basis.”

Seated next to him, 24-year-old American University law student Ivan Claudio noted that, should he win a second term, Biden would be in his late 80s by the time he leaves office, which Claudio said “is a cause for concern.”

Biden, the oldest president in U.S. history, would be 86 at the end of a second term. Most people in the United States — and even most Democrats — say they don’t want him to run again, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The president is expected to announce in the coming weeks that he’s running again.

A Texas native who now lives in Beverly Hills, California, Williamson is the author of more than a dozen books and ran an unsuccessful independent congressional campaign in California in 2014. In 2020, she was best known for wanting to create a Department of Peace and arguing the federal government should pay large financial reparations to Black Americans as atonement for centuries of slavery and discrimination.

Arguably her most memorable moment of that campaign came during a primary debate when she called for a “moral uprising,” but she dropped out of the race shortly before the leadoff Iowa caucuses began.

Trump Dominates Key Conservative Event   

Two competing, prominent events have put on display a cleaving of American conservatives ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Former President Donald Trump closed out the annual Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington, which for years has been a must-attend event for the right wing of the Republican Party. But many party loyalists, including big campaign contributors, instead attended a rival gathering in Florida.

“In 2016, I declared: I am your voice. Today, I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed: I am your retribution,” Trump told the CPAC attendees shortly after he captured the conference’s Saturday evening straw poll (unofficial balloting among event registrants) for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

In the survey, Trump trounced runner-up Ron DeSantis, the governor of the southern U.S. state of Florida, 62% to 20%. It was the fifth consecutive time Trump has won the CPAC straw poll.

Trump, whose speech lasted an hour and 42 minutes, revisited familiar grievances aired at his campaign rallies and repeated the false claim he won the 2020 presidential election. He made no mention of any other declared or expected Republican presidential candidates, instead heaping criticism on the Democrat who defeated him in the 2020 presidential election.

“Joe Biden is leading us into oblivion,” Trump said, adding, “We’re going to have World War III if something doesn’t happen fast.”

“I am the only candidate who can make this promise,” he said. “I will prevent World War III.”

Trump also vowed, if elected again, that he would settle Russia’s war on Ukraine before he arrived back in the Oval Office.

Haley speaks at both events

The former president’s only significant, declared primary challenger so far, his former ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, was on the CPAC stage the previous day. Haley also spoke at the rival event, the four-day gathering of the Club for Growth, a group focused on an anti-tax agenda.

“I know there’s a Republican candidate out there you did not invite to this conference,” she told those at the Palm Beach, Florida, event. “I appreciate being one you did invite.”

Trump was not invited to the Club for Growth retreat, held at a luxury hotel just 5 kilometers north up Ocean Boulevard from his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Florida Governor DeSantis was among the top speakers with dozens of major Republican Party donors attending. Among those in Palm Beach for the conference were several potential presidential candidates: former Vice President Mike Pence; Tim Scott, a U.S. senator from South Carolina; and Chris Sununu, the governor of the Northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire.

On Tuesday, Trump criticized the conservative, economy-focused group, writing in a Truth Social post the “Club for NO Growth is an insignificant group of Globalists” that would only attract the stragglers in next year’s Republican primary.

Another potential presidential prospect from the Republican Party who spoke at CPAC was Trump’s former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.

Attendees described the reception to remarks at CPAC by Pompeo and Haley as tepid. Haley was confronted by chants for Trump as she departed the ballroom.

Pompeo took a subtle dig at Trump during his speech, indirectly blaming his former boss for Republican losses in the 2022 midterm elections, combined with the 2020 presidential loss, creating what he called a “crisis in conservatism.”

“We need a party, a conservative party, that we can be proud to call home again, rooted in our founding ideas, led by people of real character, of competence and commitment to the mission that brought you all here today,” he said.

‘A vehicle for Trump’ 

In public remarks so far, prominent Republicans, including those expected to challenge Trump for the party’s presidential nomination, have refrained from directly criticizing the former president, a reflection of the power he wields over the party rank and file.

Conservatives were mostly united around Trump when he unsuccessfully ran for reelection in 2020. Some recent polls show the former president retaining about 50% support among Republicans ahead of next year’s election.

CPAC has turned into the “Donald Trump Family Variety Hour,” said CNN’s conservative commentator Sarah Elizabeth Cupp. “It’s become a vehicle for Trump and Trumpism” and no longer “a stop on way to becoming president.”

Prominent neo-conservative writer Bill Kristol, who served in the administrations of two Republican presidents, was not impressed by either the CPAC or Club for Growth events.

“Competition is a good thing. It leads to better products and choices except when it’s a race to the bottom,” Kristol told VOA. “And it looks like Trump versus DeSantis is more of a race to the bottom than a healthy contest which will improve the choice.”

American Cindy McCain to Head UN World Food Program

American Cindy McCain will take over as executive director of the United Nations World Food Program when current director David Beasley steps down next month.

“Ms. McCain, a champion for human rights, has a long history of giving a voice to the voiceless through her humanitarian and philanthropic work,” said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Qu Dongyu in a statement announcing the appointment.

McCain is a prominent Republican Party member who is currently U.S. ambassador to United Nations agencies in Rome, which include the FAO, the WFP, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

She has been active in U.S. politics for decades as the wife of Arizona Senator John McCain, who died of brain cancer in August 2018. Since then, she has forged her own political profile, including backing Democrat Joe Biden in his presidential bid against then-incumbent Republican president Donald Trump in 2020.

Biden appointed McCain to the Rome post in November 2021. Typically, the White House is involved in nominating the U.S. candidate to head the WFP, which is often a U.S.-held post.

McCain has worked in philanthropy, starting the American Voluntary Medical Team in 1988, which provides emergency medical and surgical care to poor children across the world. She has also traveled in her personal capacity on behalf of the WFP, visiting mother and child feeding programs in Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Mammoth challenges

McCain, 68, takes over the agency at a time of unprecedented global need. The WFP says 349 million people across 79 countries are acutely food insecure. The agency is attempting to raise $23 billion this year to reach almost 150 million people worldwide.

In 2022, the WFP reached 160 million people with humanitarian assistance.

“McCain takes over as head of the World Food Program at a moment when the world confronts the most serious food security crisis in modern history and this leadership role has never been more important,” the president of the WFP’s executive board, Polish Ambassador Artur Andrzej Pollok, said in a statement. “We wish her well and can assure her she will have the full support of the Executive Board.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered his congratulations and said Washington is “deeply invested” in the WFP’s continuing success.

“I am confident that she will bring renewed energy, optimism, and success to the World Food Program,” Blinken said of McCain.

The Republican chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, and the highest-ranking Democrat, Gregory Meeks, welcomed McCain’s appointment saying she is “an exceptionally qualified leader.”

“At a time when food insecurity and fuel costs are at an all-time high and there is soaring global hunger, the task of leading the World Food Program is more significant and consequential than ever,” they said in a joint statement.

Former leader warns against partisanship

The United States is the WFP’s largest contributor, providing about 40% of its budget or $7 billion in 2022, so McCain’s political clout will be an asset in securing funding.

But former U.S. ambassador Ertharin Cousin, who headed the WFP from 2012-2017 and is now CEO of the Chicago-based Food Systems for the Future, cautioned that McCain is serving as an international civil servant, not as member of the Republican Party.

“She must serve on a non-partisan basis in order to effectively support the work of the organization,” Cousin told VOA. “But having said that, of course, I am not naive that she will need to continue to work with both sides of the aisle in order to secure the commitment from the U.S. for the level of contribution that is required to meet the global food insecurity needs.”

Cousin also said it will be important for McCain to keep the organization fit for its purpose.

“You are stewards of taxpayers’ dollars from across the globe, and as a result you have a responsibility to make sure the organization remains the efficient behemoth that the world needs,” Cousin said.

Outgoing chief Beasley offered his congratulations on Twitter Wednesday, a day ahead of the official announcement.

Outgoing WFP leader praised

Beasley said in mid-December that he would be leaving in April. He has served as the food agency’s chief since 2017. In 2020, the World Food Program was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”

Guterres and the FAO Director-General expressed deep appreciation for Beasley’s leadership.

“He has led WFP with a deep compassion for the world’s hungry and most vulnerable during what can only be described as unprecedented crises that severely impacted global food security,” Guterres and Qu said. “He has humanized for the world the women and children most affected by hunger and has used his powerful voice to bring awareness and substantial resources to one crisis after another.”

Beasley’s tenure has coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, unprecedented droughts and floods in several developing countries, as well as a steady stream of conflicts, including Russia’s invasion last year of Ukraine.

Despite tremendous levels of fundraising, a number of the agency’s programs are hurting for cash and facing cutbacks as needs continue to rise.

Top Lawmakers Briefed on Trump, Biden, Pence Documents

Top lawmakers in Congress were briefed Tuesday on the investigations into classified documents found in the private possession of President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence. 

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines was among the officials who met privately with congressional leaders for roughly an hour. Attending the briefing were the House and Senate leaders of both parties and the leaders of both intelligence committees, who comprise what’s known as the “Gang of Eight.” Lawmakers leaving the briefing declined to specify what was discussed. 

Both Republicans and Democrats have long demanded more information from the Biden administration about the successive discoveries of classified documents in the homes of two presidents and a vice president. The U.S. strictly controls who has access to classified material and how they can view it. 

Leaders of the intelligence committees have expressed concerns about the possible exposure of highly classified secrets in those documents. 

“We still have considerable work to do, oversight work to do, to satisfy ourselves that absolutely everything is being done to protect sources and methods,” Democratic Representative Jim Himes, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview. 

The chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a joint statement that also called for more information about any potential damage. 

“While today’s meeting helped shed some light on these issues, it left much to be desired, and we will continue to press for full answers to our questions in accordance with our constitutional oversight obligations,” Senators Mark Warner and Marco Rubio said. 

The Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have declined to share details of their investigations. Attorney General Merrick Garland has directed separate special counsels to review the documents linked to Trump and Biden. 

Federal agents searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in August after developing evidence that led them to believe that Trump and his representatives had not returned all classified files. The Justice Department has said in court filings that roughly 300 documents with classified markings, including at the top-secret level, have been recovered from Mar-a-Lago after being taken there after Trump left the White House. 

Biden’s lawyers have said they discovered a “small number” of classified documents in November after searching a locked closet at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. A second batch of documents — again described by Biden’s lawyers as a “small number” — were found in a storage space in Biden’s garage near Wilmington, Delaware, along with six pages located in Biden’s personal library in his home. 

FBI agents in January found six additional items that contained documents with classified markings and also took possession of some of Biden’s handwritten notes, according to Biden’s lawyers. 

Pence’s lawyers have also said they found a “small number of documents” in his Indiana home that appeared to have been inadvertently taken there at the conclusion of his vice presidency. Federal agents found an additional classified document during a voluntary search. 

Underscoring the political and legal sensitivities for Biden, the White House issued a statement saying the Justice Department and the director of national intelligence decided on their own to brief Congress and what information to share. 

“The White House has confidence in DOJ and ODNI to exercise independent judgment about whether or when it may be appropriate for national security reasons to offer briefings on any relevant information in these investigations,” said spokesperson Ian Sams. 

Chicago Mayor Lightfoot Taking On 8 Rivals in Reelection Bid 

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is fighting for reelection Tuesday after a history-making but tumultuous four years in office and a bruising campaign threaten to make her the city’s first one-term mayor in decades.

Lightfoot in 2019 became the first Black woman and first openly gay mayor of the third-largest U.S. city, and only the second woman to hold the office. But Lightfoot, a former prosecutor and head of a city police review board, now faces serious challenges from multiple candidates, who have hammered her over crime that spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic and a leadership style they say is unnecessarily combative.

With none of the nine candidates likely to receive over 50% of the vote, the race is expected to move to an April runoff between the top two vote-getters. Lightfoot may not be among them.

Lightfoot has touted her record of investing in neighborhoods and supporting workers, such as by increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour. She also notes that the city has navigated unprecedented challenges such as the pandemic and its economic and public safety fallout to protests over policing.

“The world is very different than it was four years ago. I believe that I’m still the right person and I think the voters will validate that, but we’ve been through a lot,” Lightfoot said after a rally on the city’s west side during the final days before the election. “We can’t go back.”

Lightfoot’s top rivals include Paul Vallas, who has run as the law-and-order candidate with support from the city’s police union and promises to put hundreds more officers on the streets, and U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who forced then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel to a runoff in 2015. Brandon Johnson is endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union, a group that has tangled with Lightfoot, including during an 11-day teachers strike in her first year in office.

If Lightfoot loses on Tuesday, she would be one of the few big-city mayors in recent history to lose their reelection bid. That’s particularly true in the first round of voting, when incumbents generally enjoy an advantage.

‘This election is different’

But this election is very different, said Constance Mixon, a lifelong Chicago resident and political science professor at Elmhurst University. Of the 10 largest U.S. cities, Chicago is the only place without mayoral term limits, which may make voters in other cities more willing to give an incumbent one more term, Mixon said. 

Lightfoot also is the first mayor of a major U.S. city to face reelection following the pandemic, recession and the crime wave that’s occurred in many places, she said.

“I suspect that other mayors — and we’ve got a handful of them that are up this year, but after Lightfoot — are going to face many of the same challenges as Lightfoot,” she said.

Race also is a factor as candidates court votes in the highly segregated city, which is closely divided in population among Black, Hispanic and white residents. Lightfoot, Johnson and five other candidates are Black, though Lightfoot — who is hoping strong support from Black voters will help propel her to victory — has argued that she is the only Black candidate who can win. Garcia, the only Latino in the race, would be Chicago’s first Hispanic mayor, while Vallas is the only white candidate in the field.

Lightfoot has accused Vallas of using “the ultimate dog whistle” by saying his campaign is about “taking back our city,” and of cozying up to the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, whom she calls a racist. A recent Chicago Tribune story also found Vallas’ Twitter account had liked racist tweets and tweets that mocked Lightfoot’s appearance and referred to her as masculine.

Vallas denied his comments were related to race and says his police union endorsement is from rank-and-file officers. He also said he wasn’t responsible for the liked tweets, which he called “abhorrent,” and suggested someone had improperly accessed his account.

But Lightfoot and some of her supporters see some of the criticism of her leadership as motivated by racism, sexism and anti-gay sentiment.

“No other mayor has been asked to change this city within four years,” said city Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin, who is Black, and noted that white mayors like Emanuel and Richard Daley served multiple terms. “When we get in the game, the rules change.”

At a weekend campaign stop, Vallas said he is focused on things like public safety, Chicago’s “demoralized” police department and the number of residents “fleeing” the city’s school district.

“It’s all a product of bad leadership,” Vallas said.

A former city budget director who also led school systems in Chicago, New Orleans and Philadelphia, Vallas lost a 2019 bid for mayor. This time, he has been laser-focused on public safety, saying police officers who left the force under Lightfoot’s administration will return if he’s elected.

It seems to have resonated with voters, such as Antwoin Jackson, who are concerned about an uptick in crime. Jackson said he supported Lightfoot four years ago but cast his ballot for Vallas in Tuesday’s election because he said Lightfoot “did not hold control over the violence in the communities.” Jackson said he feels particularly unsafe when riding public transit.

Johnson, who lives in one of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods, says more needs to be done to provide affordable housing and social services such as mental health care.

Garcia, a former City Council member, state lawmaker and county commissioner, has called Lightfoot too combative and says he has a record of bringing people together.

The other candidates are businessman Willie Wilson, Chicago City Council members Sophia King and Roderick Sawyer, activist Ja’Mal Green and state Rep. Kambium “Kam” Buckner. 

New US House Committee to Focus on Strategic Competition With China

U.S. lawmakers this week are launching a two-year effort to address strategic competition between the United States and China, with a prime-time hearing set for Tuesday that will include testimony from human rights activists and members of former President Donald Trump’s national security team.

Representative Mike Gallagher, who will chair the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition with China, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” earlier this week, “We may call this a strategic competition, but it’s not a tennis match. This is about what type of world we want to live in. Do we want to live in Xinjiang-lite, or do we want to live in the free world?”

He was characterizing Beijing’s treatment of the minority Uyghur population in China’s Xinjiang province.

Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi will serve as the top Democrat on the committee, which has been described by many of its 24 members as a serious opportunity for bipartisan cooperation.

While the first hearing will focus on security concerns, the committee’s work is expected to address a wide range of issues in the relationship – from economic and agricultural competition to the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Committee member Republican Representative Dusty Johnson recently told VOA the U.S.-China relationship is often compared incorrectly to the Cold War between the United States and the then-Soviet Union.

“It’s a very different environment,” Johnson said in an interview earlier in February. “We didn’t need to in a targeted way decouple our economy from that of the Soviet Union’s. The Soviet Union was a one-dimensional threat. It was a military threat. The Chinese Communist Party is a threat in a much more comprehensive way.”

While they were in the minority in the 117th Congress, Republicans formed a China Task Force. This bipartisan group of lawmakers said they will pursue their efforts with a spirit of cooperation.

Johnson said several themes emerged from the committee’s first planning meeting.

“Number one, our work should be bipartisan. Number two, that the Chinese people are the primary victims of the pattern of aggression from the Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese people are not an adversary,” he said.

The recent U.S. shootdown of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon off the South Carolina coast focused the attention of the American public on security concerns posed by China.

“It actually has elevated the formation — the reasons for the formation of the committee,” Republican Representative Dan Newhouse, a committee member, told VOA, adding that it was important to understand China’s pattern of behavior and what the U.S. should do to deter any potential action. “We need to be smart, smarter; we need to be wired, our eyes wide open about what’s going on in the world as it relates to China.”

Newhouse is a co-sponsor of legislation addressing concerns China is buying up U.S. agricultural land.

“These trends are concerning — that potentially our supply chain as it relates to our production of food is being compromised, that we’re losing control, that we’re ceding a very important aspect of our security,” Newhouse said, adding concerns that the U.S. is ceding that control to a nation that is “not someone that has demonstrated to us that deserves the same amount of trust as some of our other trading partners.”

Democratic Representative Andre Carson, who also serves on the House Select Committee on Intelligence, told VOA that the surveillance balloons will keep security concerns at the forefront of their work. But the committee also plans to dig into other areas of strategic competition.

“We have to explore the production of semiconductors and how our allies are now working with us to thwart China’s expansion efforts,” said Carson. “And I think we have to look at ways in which our supply chain is compromised in this process.”

Carson also expressed concern about China’s investments in U.S. companies and fronting businesses in Indiana, the industrial Midwest and other places.

The committee is considering hearings outside Capitol Hill for a firsthand look at possible threats to critical infrastructure. Carson, however, emphasized the tone of the committee’s work is also important and will be heard around the country.

“We want to make sure without increasing anti-discrimination against Asian Americans in the process … that we are strengthening our national security apparatus, while at the same time we were not fanning the flames of xenophobia and anti-Asian sentiment,” he said.

Former President Jimmy Carter Enters Home Hospice Care

The Carter Center said Saturday that former United States President Jimmy Carter has entered home hospice care.

The charity created by the 98-year-old former president said on Twitter that, after a series of short hospital stays, Carter “decided to spend his remaining time at home with his family and receive hospice care instead of additional medical intervention.”

It said he has the full support of his medical team and family, which “asks for privacy at this time and is grateful for the concern shown by his many admirers.”

Carter — who has lived longer after leaving the White House than any former president in U.S. history — was a Democrat who served from January 1977 to January 1981.

He became the 39th U.S. president when he defeated former President Gerald R. Ford in 1976. He served a single term and was defeated by Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980.

In recent years, the Georgia native suffered from several health issues, including an aggressive form of melanoma that spread to his liver and brain.

US Senator Fetterman Checks Into Hospital for Depression

Pennsylvania Democratic Senator John Fetterman, still recovering from a stroke, has checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to seek treatment for clinical depression, his office said Thursday.

Fetterman, who has struggled with the aftereffects of a stroke he suffered last May, checked himself in Wednesday night, it said.

“While John has experienced depression off and on throughout his life, it only became severe in recent weeks,” his chief of staff, Adam Jentleson, said in a statement.

Fetterman was evaluated on Monday by the attending physician of Congress, Dr. Brian P. Monahan, who recommended inpatient care at Walter Reed, Jentleson said.

“John agreed, and he is receiving treatment on a voluntary basis,” Jentleson said. “After examining John, the doctors at Walter Reed told us that John is getting the care he needs and will soon be back to himself.”

Fetterman, 53, is in his first weeks as a U.S. senator after winning the seat held by now-retired Republican Pat Toomey in a hard-fought contest against Republican nominee Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Fetterman overcame a stroke days before last May’s primary election and spent the last five months on the campaign trail recovering from the stroke.

Last week, Fetterman stayed two days in George Washington University Hospital, checking himself in after becoming lightheaded. Fetterman’s office has said tests found no evidence of a new stroke or a seizure.

He continues to suffer the aftereffects of the stroke, in particular auditory processing disorder, which can render someone unable to speak fluidly and quickly process spoken conversation into meaning.

The stroke nearly killed him, he has said.

Fetterman underwent surgery to implant a pacemaker with a defibrillator to manage two heart conditions, atrial fibrillation and cardiomyopathy, and spent much of the summer recovering and off the campaign trail.

Biden a ‘Healthy, Vigorous’ 80-Year-Old, Doctor Says After Annual Physical

President Joe Biden “remains a healthy, vigorous, 80-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency, to include those as Chief Executive, Head of State and Commander in Chief,” his physician said Thursday, after the White House released the results of his annual health examination.

Dr. Kevin O’Connor said Biden had recovered from his “mild” case of COVID-19 last July, and that he “has not experienced any residual symptoms which may be considered to be ‘Long COVID.’”

The report went on to say that the president’s main health indicators were normal, that he works out five days a week, and does not drink alcohol.

O’Connor said a neurologic exam “was again reassuring in that there were no findings which would be consistent with any cerebellar or other central neurological disorder, such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s or ascending lateral sclerosis.”

And on Biden’s gait — which has grown noticeably stiff in recent months — O’Connor said “the President’s gait remains stiff, but has not worsened since last year.”

In 2021, O’Connor said Biden was “healthy” and “vigorous” and capable of serving in his high-profile, high-stress job.

While U.S. presidents are not required to release health information, it has become a norm in the White House in recent decades. It is especially relevant considering Biden is the oldest person to ever serve in the role, and his critics and supporters have questioned whether he should run for a second term, when he would be 86 years old at the end of the four-year term.

Trump Election Probe Grand Jury Believes Some Witnesses Lied

A special grand jury investigating efforts by then-President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia says it believes “one or more witnesses” committed perjury, and it’s urging local prosecutors to bring charges. 

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis should “seek appropriate indictments for such crimes where the evidence is compelling,” according to portions of the special grand jury’s final report that were released on Thursday. 

The sections that were made public are silent on key details, including who the panel believes committed perjury and what other specific charges should be pursued. But it marks the first time the grand jurors’ recommendations for criminal charges tied to the case have been made public. And it’s a reminder of the intensifying legal challenges facing the former president as he ramps up his third White House bid amid multiple legal investigations. 

Trump is also under investigation by the United States Justice Department for holding classified documents at his Florida estate. 

The former president never testified before the special grand jury, meaning he is not among those who could have perjured themselves. But the case still poses particular challenges for him, in part because his actions in Georgia were so public. 

‘I just want to find 11,780 votes’

Trump and his allies made unproven claims of widespread voter fraud and repeatedly berated Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Governor Brian Kemp for not acting to overturn his narrow loss to President Joe Biden in the state. 

District Attorney Willis has said since the beginning of the investigation two years ago that she was interested in a January 2, 2021, phone call in which Trump suggested to Raffensperger that he could “find” the votes needed to overturn his loss in the state. 

“All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump said during that call. “Because we won the state.” 

Trump has said repeatedly that his call with Raffensperger was “perfect,” and he told The Associated Press last month that he felt “very confident” that he would not be indicted. 

State and federal officials, including Trump’s attorney general, have consistently said the election was secure and there was no evidence of significant fraud. After hearing “extensive testimony on the issue,” the special grand jury agreed, unanimously voting that there was no widespread fraud in Georgia’s election. 

The special grand jury, which was requested by Willis to aid her investigation, was seated in May and submitted its report to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney on December 15. The panel does not have the power to issue indictments. Instead, its report contains recommendations for Willis, who will ultimately decide whether to seek one or more indictments from a regular grand jury. 

Seven months, 75 witnesses

Over the course of about seven months, the special grand jurors heard from 75 witnesses, among them Trump allies including former New York mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Top Georgia officials, such as Raffensperger and Kemp, also appeared before the panel. 

Graham told reporters Thursday that he has not been contacted by authorities regarding his testimony. “I’m confident I testified openly and honestly,” he said. 

The partial release of the grand jury’s report was ordered Monday by McBurney, who oversaw the special grand jury. During a hearing last month, prosecutors urged him not to release the report until they decide on charges, while a coalition of media organizations, including the AP, pushed for the entire report to be made public immediately. 

McBurney wrote in his Monday order that it’s not appropriate to release the full report now because it’s important to protect the due process rights of people for whom the grand jury recommended charges. 

Grand jury used ‘collective best efforts’

While there were relatively few details in Thursday’s release, it does provide some insight into the panel’s process. The report’s introduction says an “overwhelming majority” of the information that the grand jury received “was delivered in person under oath.” It also noted that no one on the panel was an election law expert or criminal lawyer. 

“The majority of this Grand Jury used their collective best efforts,” the report said, “to attend every session, listen to every witness, and attempt to understand the facts as presented and the laws as explained.” 

Based on witnesses called to testify before the special grand jury, it is clear that Willis is focusing on several areas. These include: 

Phone calls by Trump and others to Georgia officials in the wake of the 2020 election. 
A group of 16 Georgia Republicans who signed a certificate in December 2020 falsely stating that Trump had won the state and that they were the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors
False allegations of election fraud made during meetings of state legislators at the Georgia Capitol in December 2020
The copying of data and software from election equipment in rural Coffee County by a computer forensics team hired by Trump allies
Alleged attempts to pressure Fulton County elections worker Ruby Freeman into falsely confessing to election fraud
The abrupt resignation of the U.S. attorney in Atlanta in January 2021

Florida Education Fights Mirror National Controversies

For the past year, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has waged a struggle against what he sees as a left-wing bias in educational institutions in the United States. This week, he escalated the conflict, suggesting he might block popular Advanced Placement (AP) courses from being offered in Florida high schools.

The remarks came just a few days after the nonprofit College Board, which sets the curricula for the dozens of AP courses offered across the country, criticized DeSantis and his administration for blocking the rollout of a pilot AP course on African American history.

DeSantis is widely expected to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, challenging former President Donald Trump and other contenders. Engaging in public battles with cultural institutions perceived by many conservatives as biased against them is keeping DeSantis’ name in the news, even though he has not officially announced his candidacy.

The only announced candidates, Trump and Republican former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, have both signaled that they, too, will make culture war politics part of their campaigns. This suggests that in the 17 months leading up to the Republican nominating convention in July 2024, American educational institutions can expect to be in the candidates’ crosshairs.

Haley and Trump

Haley, who officially announced her candidacy with a launch event on Wednesday, had already signaled her interest in wading into the education debates.

In a video released earlier in the week, she took aim at the 1619 Project, a program aimed at a broad rethinking of U.S. history with a focus on the effects of hundreds of years of slavery. The project, which has created curricula for high school students, has drawn the ire of conservatives.

In her video, with an image of the 1619 Project’s logo on screen, Haley says, “Some look at our past as evidence that America’s founding principles are bad. They say the promise of freedom is just made up. Some think our ideas are not just wrong, but racist and evil. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

In his first campaign event of the new year, Trump promised to fight “indoctrination” in U.S. schools. He also vowed to cut funding to schools that promote a “leftist” agenda. It’s not a topic that the former president had commonly addressed in the past, suggesting that he believes it’s going to be necessary for him to add it to the mix as he hits the campaign trail for 2024.

Series of fights

DeSantis’ tussle with the College Board is the latest in a series of his high-profile moves to challenge the existing educational system in Florida.

Last month, he took the controversial step of removing nearly half of the trustees at New College of Florida, a small, liberal arts institution in Sarasota that DeSantis accused of being biased against conservatives. He replaced the board members with conservatives tasked with turning the school into a beacon of conservative thought and principles.

Last year, DeSantis signed two bills aimed at elementary and high school education in Florida.

The Florida Parental Rights in Education Act, commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, restricted the ability of public school teachers in Florida to discuss LGBTQ issues in class. It led some schools to temporarily close their libraries for fear that some books might be found to be in violation of the law.

The Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act took aim at instruction in schools and workplace training programs. Specifically, it targeted the teaching of topics such as the enslavement of Black Americans prior to the Civil War, and the suppression of their rights in southern states during the Jim Crow era.

Among other things, DeSantis and the bill’s supporters said it was meant to fight off “woke indoctrination” of students and to eradicate critical race theory, a more than 40-year-old academic concept that says racism is embedded in the U.S. legal system. CRT has become a catchall phrase among conservatives for curricula that point out racial disparities in the country.

AP controversy

AP courses, which allow high school students to earn college credits, are taught in public schools across the country. But the curricula for each of the dozens of different classes are developed by the College Board, a nonprofit organization that also administers well-known standardized tests, including the SAT for college and university entrance.

In 2021, the last year for which full data is available, 1.2 million U.S. public high school graduates — more than one in three — took at least one AP exam. A sufficiently high score on an AP exam is accepted as course credit by many colleges and universities, which can lower the costs of earning a college degree.

DeSantis’ fight with the College Board began last month, when the organization released a preliminary guide for a pilot program offering an AP course in African American history. The course covered a wide variety of issues, but included units on critical race theory, queer theory, and other issues to which DeSantis objected.

AP African American history

DeSantis also called into question the need for an African American history course, saying that state law mandates that African American history be taught as part of broader courses in U.S. history.

The Florida Department of Education released a statement saying it would bar public schools from using the curriculum, saying it is “contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”

The College Board later released a significantly altered version of the curriculum that removed many of the units to which DeSantis had objected, earning it criticism for apparently giving in to the Florida governor.

The organization countered that the changes had already been under consideration and were not a capitulation to DeSantis. In a press release, it lashed out at the DeSantis administration, calling the Department of Education’s assessment of the course a “slander” and claiming that administration officials had twisted facts in order to “engineer a political win.”

The College Board did not reply to a request for comment on this story.

DeSantis replies

Speaking at a news conference in Jacksonville, Florida, this week, DeSantis took aim at the College Board.

“Who elected them?” he asked. “It’s not clear to me that this particular operator is the one that’s going to need to be used in the future.”

He said he is in favor of high school students being able to earn college credit, but pointed out that there are a number of other programs that make that possible.

“College credit? Yes. Having that available for everyone? Absolutely,” DeSantis said. “Does it have to be done by the College Board? Or can we utilize some of these other providers who I think have a really, really strong track record?”

Supporters cheer

DeSantis’s assault on the College Board in particular, and educational institutions in general, has delighted his supporters, Dan Backer, counsel for Ready for Ron, a political action committee supporting DeSantis for president, told VOA.

“Ron DeSantis is right. The College Board is shirking its duty to educate young Americans, choosing instead to play the ‘woke’ game and brainwash students with radical leftist propaganda,” he said.

On educational issues more broadly, he said, “Across America, parents and students deserve better, and Ron DeSantis knows it. He is once again showing what true leadership looks like, putting forth a common-sense education platform that prioritizes actual learning above all else — with no side helping of left-wing politics.”

Education advocates troubled

Eric Duncan of The Education Trust told VOA that his nonprofit organization — which works to break down racial and economic barriers to education — views DeSantis’ actions in Florida as a troubling reflection of a broader national trend toward stifling discussion of ugly parts of U.S. history.

“This is just part and parcel of that movement,” said Duncan, who directs the organization’s policy on preschool through high school education. “Our stance is really about trying to protect schools and classrooms from external attacks on the teaching of honest history and of conversations that are reflective of perspectives of different cultures and racial backgrounds.”

He added, “We need safe, supportive classrooms for students of color. Any efforts to censor the teaching of honest history is antithetical to that.”