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Illinois Democrats threaten Michael Madigan’s decadeslong hold on power

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Illinois Democrats threaten Michael Madigan's decadeslong hold on power

“This reflects a big change in what people in Illinois are expecting out of government,” Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi, who defeated a machine-style politician two years ago, said Friday. “Basically, we have one of the last old-school political machines in the country. Madigan’s a lineal descendant of that tradition and people don’t think it works. It has caused tremendous fiscal problems in the state.”

Earlier this week, federal prosecutors charged one of Madigan’s confidants and three former ComEd executives in an alleged scheme to give no-work jobs and internships to Madigan allies in exchange for favorable legislation. Madigan has not been charged, but he was quickly identified as “Public Official A” in federal documents because the official is described as the Illinois speaker, a position only two people have held in nearly 40 years.

Madigan’s exit would bring practical concerns for Democrats, and not just in Illinois: Despite having a Democratic supermajority, the speaker’s allies in labor and in the General Assembly worry ousting Madigan now could jeopardize their control over the next redistricting process, which begins in 2021. There is also fear around being alienated from him and “The Program,” Madigan’s fundraising operation and an army of volunteers that help candidates win campaigns.

Madigan, known as the “Velvet Hammer,” could afford to lose only 13 votes in the Illinois House and hold on as speaker — a figure he hit early this week. By Thursday night, 17 had defected as he sought to defend himself (the number grew to 18 on Friday morning).

“Some individuals have spent millions of dollars and worked diligently to establish a false narrative that I am corrupt and unethical. I have publicly ignored their antics because those who know me and work with me know that this rhetoric is simply untrue,” Madigan said in a two-page statement issued Thursday.

The Illinois GOP struggles to fund campaigns in a state dominated by Democrats, but the ComEd angle — and it’s connections to Madigan, who also chairs the Illinois Democratic Party — gave them a clear target. Republican candidates across the state capitalized on the investigation, which was announced in July, using it to slam Democratic incumbents and newcomers alike in the Nov. 3 election.

Although President Donald Trump is credited with turning out his base all over the country, some Democrats say the specter of corruption in Illinois helped tank Democratic campaigns for Congress and the General Assembly. And as the election fallout ripples and news of the investigation trickles out, a growing number of high-profile Democrats have called out Madigan.

Earlier this month, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) stunned political veterans in the state with a television interview in which he laid Betsy Dirksen Londrigan’s House loss at Madigan’s feet.

“All across our state — and the advertising told the story — we paid a heavy price for the speaker’s chairmanship of the Democratic Party,” Durbin told WTTW on “Chicago Tonight.” “Candidates who had little or no connection with [Madigan] whatsoever were being tarred as Madigan allies who are behind corruption and so forth and so on.”

Londrigan fell short in her rematch this year against Republican Rep. Rodney Davis after she’d lost by just 2,000 votes in 2018. This year, Davis ran an attack ad trying to tie Londrigan to Madigan, saying “Betsy Londrigan would make Washington more corrupt.”

Similarly, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) has called for Madigan to step down as party leader.

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker blamed the cloud of corruption for influencing voters to reject a progressive income tax ballot initiative. The measure was a signature piece of Pritzker’s plan to help turn around the state’s financial ship and further cement his liberal credentials.

“If Speaker Madigan wants to continue in a position of enormous public trust with such a serious ethical cloud hanging over his head, then he has to at the very least be willing to stand in front of the press and the people and answer every last question to their satisfaction,” Pritzker told reporters Thursday.

Strong as his statement was, the governor didn’t call outright for Madigan’s resignation and instead gave him something of an out. Written statements, Pritzker said, “are not going to cut it. If the speaker cannot commit to that level of transparency, then the time has come for him to resign as speaker.”

Pritzker must weigh his own political ambitions as he looks to reelection in 2022; Republican campaigns are sure wield Madigan as a top talking point.

But it’s the lawmakers in the state House who have the most power to decide Madigan’s future in the face of his denials of wrongdoing.

The cracks in Madigan’s veneer started before the ComEd investigation. Two years ago, his office came under scrutiny for sexual harassment. A few veteran aides were fired, but female lawmakers haven’t forgotten and have led much of the opposition to Madigan staying on as speaker.

“Women are tired of the system being rigged against them, tired of the old boy network and tired of having to put up with bad behavior, ethical challenges and a complete disregard for a higher standard of ethics and morality when you’re in a position of leadership,” said state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, who so far is the only representative who’s put her hat in the ring to run against Madigan as speaker.

Madigan still has his supporters and some legislators have hinted at supporting the speaker in January if he commits to make it his last. Union leaders and others credit Madigan with pushing back against Bruce Rauner, a one-term Republican governor whose austerity measures added to a budget morass that the state is still struggling with today.

“We have a raging pandemic, a precarious economy, a huge budget hole, and we might be coming into one of the toughest budget-making sessions we’ve ever had,” Michael Sacks, a top Democratic donor and supporter of Joe Biden, said before the latest drip of the ComEd scandal. “The idea that we don’t have all of our best players on the field protecting social services, education, working families and other things Democrats care about is nonsensical.”

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Arizona Republicans censure Cindy McCain, GOP governor

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Arizona Republicans censure Cindy McCain, GOP governor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cindy McCain endorsed Biden and became a powerful surrogate for the Democrat following years of attacks by Trump on her husband. After the vote, she wrote on Twitter that “it is a high honor to be included in a group of Arizonans who have served our state and our nation so well.”

“I’ll wear this as a badge of honor,” she wrote.

Also after the vote, Flake tweeted a photo of him with McCain and Ducey at Biden’s inauguration and wrote: “Good company.”

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

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

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

“These resolutions are of no consequence whatsoever and the people behind them have lost whatever little

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One of Trump’s final acts will allow former aides to profit from foreign ties

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One of Trump's final acts will allow former aides to profit from foreign ties

Michael McKenna, a former lobbyist who worked in Trump’s White House legislative affairs office, said he had no intention of lobbying for foreign governments but thought other former Trump administration officials would jump at the chance.

“I’m pretty confident that a bunch of people would absolutely love to represent Monaco, France, the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

Trump’s “lifetime ban” on former officials in his administration representing foreign governments was part of his 2016 campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington. He even criticized President Bill Clinton for revoking his own ethics rules right before leaving office two decades ago, arguing Clinton had “rigged the system on his way out.”

“He is undoing really the only example of policy that was supposed to evidence his commitment to drain the swamp,” said Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, which advocates for tougher ethics rules.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires those who lobby for foreign governments and political parties — along with some other foreign interests — to disclose their work with the Justice Department. Several prominent Trump allies failed to do so, ensnaring them in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and other federal investigations. .

Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chair, was sentenced in 2019 to 7 ½ years in prison for failing to register as a foreign agent, among other crimes.

Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, admitted to lying to investigators about his role in a lobbying campaign on behalf of Turkish interests, though Flynn wasn’t charged with violating FARA.

And Elliott Broidy, a prominent fundraiser for Trump’s 2016 campaign, pleaded guilty in October to failing to register as a foreign agent even though he knew he should’ve done so.

Trump pardoned all three men before leaving office.

There’s nothing illegal or even unethical about lobbying for foreign governments, but many lobbyists try to avoid representing countries that have tense relationships with Washington or troubled human rights records. Two lobbying firms cut ties with Turkey late last year after Turkey aided Azerbaijan in a controversial conflict with Armenia, and several prominent firms quit lobbying for Saudi Arabia in 2018 after the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

But lobbying for foreign governments is one of the most lucrative niches on K Street, and Trump-connected lobbyists who registered as foreign agents thrived in Washington during his administration, earning millions of dollars lobbying for the governments of countries such as Turkey, Zimbabwe and the Dominican Republic.

Gotham Government Relations & Communications, a New York lobbying firm that once counted Trump as a client, capitalized on the connection after Trump’s 2016 victory, opening a Washington office and signing clients including the Libyan government. Like others on K Street, the firm is now trying to reposition itself for the Biden era.

Earlier this month, the firm sent a memo to several foreign governments and other potential clients highlighting its ties to a different New York politician: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“Our Washington D.C. office stands ready to advocate for you with the Senate Majority office of the Honorable Charles Schumer!” the memo reads.

Trump’s ethics rules never barred former administration officials from lobbying entirely. Those who left the administration were allowed to lobby Congress, and loopholes also let them lobby the administration in some cases. At least 84 former Trump administration officials registered as lobbyists while he was in office, according to a POLITICO analysis of disclosure filings.

But the rules did include significant limitations, prohibiting former Trump administration officials from lobbying the agencies in which they served for five years after leaving the government.

Now that Trump has revoked his ethics pledge, they’re mostly free to lobby the executive branch. (Those who’ve left within the past year are still prohibited by law from trying to influence their former agencies.)

Some on K Street have cheered Trump’s decision. “It puts a number of people who were on the sidelines [back] in the game,” said one lobbyist whose firm has hired former Trump administration officials.

But others are skeptical staffers from the previous administration will have much sway.

“I’m not sure the Biden people are going to want to be lobbied by us,” said one former Trump administration official who’s now a lobbyist, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Former Trump administration officials are also now free to lobby Republican lawmakers on behalf of foreign interests — but demand for such work will be softer with Democrats in control of Congress, said Ivan Zapien, who leads Hogan Lovells’ government relations and public affairs practice.

“There’s not many world leaders who are trying to figure out how to deal with Republicans right now,” Zapien said.

Some ethics lawyers said Trump’s lifetime ban on foreign lobbying might have been excessive. (The ethics rules Biden debuted on Wednesday only bar those who serve in his administration from representing foreign governments until Biden leaves office or for two years after they leave government, whichever is later.)

Would the contacts former Trump administration officials made in government still give them a lobbying edge in 20 or 30 years?

“It sounds really good, there’s no doubt about it,” said Tom Spulak, a Washington lawyer who’s advised clients on the Foreign Agents Registration Act and has also lobbied for foreign interests himself. “But is it really serving a purpose?”

But Paul Light, a New York University professor who has criticized lengthy lobbying bans in the past, said he couldn’t support Trump’s last-minute repeal after all the ethics scandals during his administration.

“I don’t think Donald Trump is the right person to undo any ethics rule,” he said.

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The political roots of Amanda Gorman’s genius

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The political roots of Amanda Gorman’s genius

“Somehow, we do it.

“Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed

“A nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”

It captured the national mood, earning her instant respect and worldwide fame. But Gorman’s poetry, and its activist leanings, don’t spring out of a vacuum. Instead, she’s part of a continuum of writers, particularly performance poets of color, who’ve used poetry to inspire political action, relying on their art and their platforms to call attention to the issues of the day.

“Politics is the official business of trying to live together. And that is a very rich subject for poetry,” said Elizabeth Alexander, a former inaugural poet and president of the Mellon Foundation, the nation’s largest supporter of arts and humanities. “Poems envision what is ahead. Poems shed light so that we can see forward.”

Prior inaugural poets have issued similar calls for unity — but never at such a fraught time in American politics. When Maya Angelou read her poem, “On the Pulse of the Morning,” at Bill Clinton’s inauguration, she spoke of America’s colonial history and its disparate impact on Native Americans and African Americans, but urged other ethnic, religious and social groups to “put down roots … by the river,” and work together as one nation.

Activism has always been an integral part of Gorman’s life. In interviews, she’s talked about how her mother raised her and her siblings through a social justice lens. At her predominantly white, private high school, Gorman and her twin sister staged a revolt to protest the lack of diversity in their English class syllabus. As a teen, she was a U.N. delegate, and founded a nonprofit, One Pen, One Page, a platform for “for student storytellers to change the world.”

Writing poetry, she told the Harvard Crimson, is an inherently activist act. “The personal is political,” the Harvard graduate said. The fact that you have the luxury as a white male to write all your poems about being lost in the woods, that you don’t have to interrogate race and gender, is a political statement in and of itself.”

Gorman, the youngest poet laureate at 22, is part of a long line of performance poets of color who’ve wielded verse as a weapon in their activism: Gwendolyn Brooks. Nikki Giovanni. Amiri Baraka. Miguel Piñero. Alurista. Miguel Algarín, co-founder of New York’s Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Gil Scott-Heron married politics with poetry, setting everything to a humming beat. His contemporaries, The Last Poets, sprang out of the Black Arts and Black Power movements in the late 1960s and early 1970s, using drums to punctuate fiery, power-to-the-people poems. Along with Scott-Heron, they’re credited as the godfathers of rap. And today, Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar, who incorporates spoken word in his music, is a muse for the Movement for Black Lives.

On Wednesday, Gorman carried that legacy with her. Standing at the podium in her red headband and caged bird ring, Gorman recited lines about the Jan. 6 insurrection that took place on the same steps where she spoke. It was a moment, she said in interviews, that shifted the focus of her poem and inspired her to deliver a message of unity while underlining the clear divisions in the country.

“We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it. Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy,” she recited, referring to the Capitol riots. “And this effort nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.”

Her words reverberated across the inaugural stage and the nation and millions of people seized on her call for unity in a medium free of partisanship or lofty political rhetoric. Praise poured in: Morgan State University offered her a poet-in-residence position. Hillary Clinton endorsed her presidential aspirations. Both of Gorman’s upcoming books, which aren’t due to be released until September, are Amazon’s top selling, sitting at the site’s #1 and #2 slots.

More, the stakes and pressure of her writing a poem for the moment weren’t lost on other poets, including those more seasoned than Gorman. Jericho Brown, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and professor at Emory University, where he also serves as director of its creative writing program, said he and Gorman read at an event a few years ago. Seeing her recite at a younger age, Brown said, he knew her poetry career would flourish. The seamless infusion of politics into her poetry, he said, was both powerful — and par for the course.

“For me, politics is so important that it’s not important,” he said. “I think of politics to my poetry the same way I think of breath to my body. When I’m breathing, I don’t think about it. I do it because it needs to be done.”

Danez Smith, a Black, queer writer, performer and National Book Award finalist, agreed.

“I’m of the school that thinks kinda everything is political if you look at it from the right angle,” they said. “I think about my art in a political sense but also that a lot of what I write responds back to the world, both in my own life and a broader sense.”

The widespread popularity of Gorman’s poetry, as evidenced by the millions of Twitter followers and book pre-orders she’s received, is also a reflection of its influence on mainstream conversation. Andrew Anabi, founder of Pool House, a New York-based poetry collective that posts inspirational poems on its website and social media, said Gorman’s words are emblematic of the role poetry can play in a time of widespread isolation. Poetry has so much value especially now, he explained, because it’s a “direct way to talk about difficult conversations.”

“In a world that is so fast paced, [poetry] can really stop you in your tracks,” Anabi said. “That can get people to pay attention.”

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