Seattle Times Politics

Senate approves expansion of low-income tax credit

The tax exemption is modeled in part after the federal Earned Income Tax Credit and is meant to offset the state sales tax. The bill passed the Democratic-led Senate on Sunday and now heads back to the House,

Columbian Newspaper

Ecuador, Peru head to polls under strict virus measures
Author: Associated Press

LIMA, Peru — Ecuador and Peru were choosing new presidents Sunday under strict public health measures prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, which has recently strengthened in the neighboring South American nations.

Ecuadoreans face a runoff between a conservative businessman and a prot’eg’e of former leftist President Rafael Correa, while Peruvians have 18 options to pick from in the first round. All seats in Peru’s congress, too, are being contested.

The elections come amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in both countries and meager progress in their vaccination programs. Lockdowns have returned, threating further damage to the nations’ already battered economies.

In Ecuador, voters have been ordered to wear a mask, bring their own hand sanitizer and pencil, keep a 5-foot (1.5-meter) distance from others and avoid all personal contact in the polling place. The only time voters will be allowed to lower their mask will be during the identification process.

Election officials in Peru have scheduled specific times for people to vote to avoid overcrowding at the polls. People will have to wipe their shoes on sanitizing mats, wear masks, undergo a temperature check and carry their own blue-ink pen. Poll workers will be paid for the first time.

Ecuador’s runoff features leftist candidate Andres Arauz, who led the first round of voting with more than 30% on Feb. 7, and former banker Guillermo Lasso, who edged into the final by finishing about half of a percentage point above environmentalist and Indigenous candidate Yaku P’erez.

Arauz is backed by Correa, a major force in the troubled Andean nation despite a corruption conviction. He has proposed making the wealthy pay more taxes, backing away from agreements with the International Monetary Fund, and finding legal mechanisms to force the repatriation of deposits that Ecuadorians have abroad.

“We Ecuadorians want there to be a unity government that respects everyone and not just the few,” Arauz said after voting in Quito.

Lasso finished second in the last two presidential contests. He favors free-market policies and Ecuador’s rapprochement with international organizations. He has proposed raising the minimum wage to $500, finding ways to include more youth and women in the labor market and eliminating tariffs for agricultural equipment.

“We all wish for an Ecuador of opportunities, free and democratic, where all families can become prosperous,” Lasso said after voting.

The country is deep in a recession that many fear will worsen as lockdowns return because of a spike in COVID-19 cases. Ecuador has tallied more than 341,000 cases and over 17,000 deaths as of Friday.

Meanwhile, Peru’s election has turned into a popularity contest in which a candidate has even addressed how he suppresses his sexual desires. The crowded field of presidential hopefuls comes months after the country’s political chaos reached a new level in November, when three men were named presidents in a week after one was impeached by Congress over corruption allegations and protests forced his successor to resign.

All former Peruvian presidents who ruled since 1985 have been ensnared in corruption allegation, some imprisoned or arrested in their mansions. One died by suicide before police could arrest him.

To avoid a June runoff, a candidate needs more than 50% of votes, and recent polls show the leading candidate garnering only about 15% support.

In polls, centrist Yonhy Lescano has been followed by center-right George Forsyth, conservative Rafael L’opez Aliaga and Keiko Fujimori, the opposition leader and daughter of the polarizing former President Alberto Fujimori.

The country is among those hardest hit by COVID-19, with more than 1.5 million cases and over 53,400 deaths as of Friday.

Nevada GOP censures elections official who defended results
Author: Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — Nevada’s Republican Party voted to censure the secretary of state, accusing her of failing to fully investigate allegations of fraud in the 2020 election. She says there was no widespread fraud and that her own party is attacking her for refusing to “put my thumb on the scale of democracy.”

Barbara Cegavske, the only Republican statewide office holder in Nevada, said members of her party are disappointed with the election results and believe fraud occurred “despite a complete lack of evidence to support that belief.”

Cegavske, who has overseen elections in the state since 2014, has repeatedly defended the results as reliable and accurate despite attacks from President Donald Trump and other Republicans.

Nevada is among the states where former Trump sought to subvert results from the November 2020 election with lawsuits and conspiracy theories. President Joe Biden defeated Trump in the Western swing state by 2 percentage points, or nearly 34,000 votes.

“Regrettably, members of my own political party have decided to censure me simply because they are disappointed with the outcome of the 2020 election. While I have been loyal to the Nevada Republican Party during my over two decades as an elected official, I have been unwavering in my commitment to oversee elections and administer Nevada’s election laws in a neutral, nonpartisan manner,” Cegavske said in a statement Sunday. “My job is to carry out the duties of my office as enacted by the Nevada Legislature, not carry water for the state GOP or put my thumb on the scale of democracy. Unfortunately, members of my own party continue to believe the 2020 general election was wrought with fraud – and that somehow I had a part in it – despite a complete lack of evidence to support that belief.”

A GOP official who was unauthorized to speak publicly confirmed to The Associated Press that the measure passed on a 126-112 vote by the party’s governing members at a meeting in the state capital, Carson City.

Jessica Hanson, the executive director of the state GOP, sent a statement from the party noting that the censure vote on Saturday “passed narrowly” and said it occurred following “a healthy debate” over the election.

“The Nevada Republican Party holds our elected officials to a high standard. As such, this weekend the party sent a clear message that our officials must work for the people and we demand that our representatives at all levels of government uphold their Oath of Office,” the party said.

It wasn’t clear from a copy of the censure resolution what punishment the censure entailed. Hanson did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the punishment.

In March, Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald presented four boxes to Cegavske’s office that he and other Republican leaders said contained proof of more than 120,000 instances of voter fraud.

But Cegavske said after reviewing the reports, there were only 3,963 Election Integrity Violation reports submitted. Her office said a number of those reports were already under investigation by her office and it was reviewing the others reports to determine if an investigation was warranted.

The secretary of state allows people to fill out the two-page Election Integrity Violation forms when they believe they have witnessed people breaking election laws, which staff subsequently investigate.

The censure vote was first reported by The Nevada Independent.

Cegavske is among a handful of Republicans who have been censured by their own parties in recent months after finding themselves at odds with Trump and his supporters. State Republican parties in North Carolina, Louisiana and Alaska voted to censure U.S. Sens. Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy and Lisa Murkowski for their votes to convict Trump at his second impeachment trial, and the Wyoming GOP censured Republican U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney for voting to impeach Trump. Arizona’s Republican Party in January voted to censure Sen. John McCain’s widow Cindy McCain and former Sen. Jeff Flake, both of whom endorsed Biden, and Gov. Doug Ducey, who signed a certification of Biden’s victory in that state.

Hit-and-run crash in Florida kills New York federal judge
Author: Associated Press

BOCA RATON, Fla. — A Florida woman who claimed she is Harry Potter fatally struck a federal judge visiting from New York and seriously injured a 6-year-old boy after swerving her car onto a sidewalk, officials said.

Nastasia Snape, 23, is charged with vehicular homicide and other felonies for Friday’s crash that killed District Judge Sandra Feuerstein, 75, who served in the Eastern District of New York since 2003. The boy, Anthony Ovchinnikov, was taken to the hospital, but his condition Sunday could not be determined.

According to court records, witnesses told Boca Raton police the Snape was driving erratically, going around stopped traffic, on a busy road when she drove onto the sidewalk and struck Feuerstein. Snape then drove back onto the roadway, striking the boy in a crosswalk.

Police say Snape then fled into neighboring Delray Beach, where she crashed. A Delray police officer said Snape appeared to be having convulsions, but was able to get out of the car. She stared into space and would only say she was OK.

Police say that in the ambulance, Snape began screaming and fighting with medics while yelling she is Harry Potter. The medics drugged her. Police say they found in her purse the synthetic drug commonly known as “bath salts,” which can cause psychotic episodes.

She remained jailed Sunday on $60,000 bond. The Palm Beach County public defender’s office was not open Sunday and has a policy of not speaking about its cases. In the Potter novels, there is a character named Snape.

Feuerstein was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush after 16 years as a New York state judge, according to Eastern District website. The court’s jurisdiction covers Long Island, including Brooklyn and Queens, along with Staten Island.

She had been presiding over the case of a former New York City police officer, Valerie Cincinelli, who is accused of paying her lover to kill her husband. The lover went to authorities and she was arrested. Cincinelli had been expected to plead guilty this week, according to media reports. It is unclear how Feuerstein’s death will affect the case. Her late mother, Annette Elstein, was also a judge and they were believed to be the first mother-daughter duo to be judges.

In a statement, Eugene Corcoran, the Eastern District’s executive, said Feuerstein’s “eccentric style and warm personality lit up the courtroom. She will be missed by her colleagues and litigants alike.”

Feuerstein was born in New York in 1946 and worked as a schoolteacher before earning a law degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in 1979.

“She viewed a judge’s role as interpreting and not creating law,” Joshua Glick, who clerked for Feuerstein, told Newsday. “She was focused on writing clear and concise opinions that were easily understood. She was occasionally tough on litigants who she felt were not being fully candid with her, but she was always fair.”

Reports: Man kills self after standoff at Honolulu hotel
Author: Associated Press

HONOLULU — A standoff between Honolulu police and an armed man who fired shots through the door of his room at a luxury resort ended when the man was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, local media reported Sunday.

A SWAT team entered the fourth-floor room at The Kahala Hotel & Resort about 3:30 a.m. Sunday and found the man dead, local television stations and a newspaper reported, citing unnamed police officials. All reported police didn’t release further information, including the man’s name.

Messages sent to spokespersons for the Honolulu Police Department and the Honolulu mayor’s office seeking confirmation and further details were not immediately returned Sunday to The Associated Press.

Shots were fired at around 6 p.m., according to police. Hotel security staff went up to the room where the man was located and knocked on the door. He then fired through the door multiple times, police said.

No one outside the door was hurt, Honolulu police Capt. Brian Lynch told news outlets. The luxury resort said in a statement that hotel security and law enforcement evacuated the area around the room.

“Everybody is accounted for,” Lynch said.

Authorities have not released any details about the events leading up to the stand-off. Police believe the man is in the military.

Photos and videos shared by local media showed about 100 people locked down in the hotel’s ballroom. Displaced guests were provided with food, blankets and pillows. Hours after the standoff began, guests sheltering in place were allowed to leave.

Images from outside the resort showed a large police presence, including a SWAT team.

Kahala resident Yevgeniy Lendel told Hawaii News Now he was walking in the area when officers rushed to the scene.

“The cops told everyone to run and shelter,” he told the TV station. “We ran away from the hotel.”

The standoff occurred during what had seemed to be a quiet evening at the resort. Visitors and locals were eating at beach-side restaurants and taking in the sights.

Honolulu resident Rex Jakobovits said he was strolling on the beach when he was told by police to get into the hotel’s ballroom. He told Hawaii News Now that when he got inside, people were frightened. Some were crying.

However, Jakobovits said the mood eventually calmed after officers were posted outside the doors.

For Chauvin’s trial attorney, it’s all about raising doubt
Author: Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Derek Chauvin’s defense attorney was questioning George Floyd’s girlfriend about the couple buying drugs when he abruptly shifted gears for what seemed an innocuous question: He presumed the couple had pet names for each other. Under what name, he asked, did she appear in Floyd’s phone?

Courteney Ross first smiled at the question, then paused before replying: “Mama.”

The fleeting exchange called into question the widely reported account that Floyd was crying out for his deceased mother as he lay pinned to the pavement. And it appeared to be one in a series of moves aimed at undermining a dominant narrative of Floyd’s death – established through bystander video and saturation news coverage and commentary – of a reckless, arrogant cop ignoring a man’s “I can’t breathe” cries as his life is snuffed out.

At another moment in the trial, Nelson asked a paramedic if he had responded to “other” overdose calls before quickly correcting himself to say “overdose calls” – perhaps a simple mistake, or an attempt to plant the idea that Floyd’s death was an overdose.

Expert witnesses for the prosecution have asserted drugs did not kill Floyd.

Nelson has repeatedly called the bystanders at Floyd’s arrest a “crowd” and “unruly” and suggested there were more people present than seen on camera. He drilled a fire department captain on taking 17 minutes to reach the scene when an ambulance called first arrived much sooner. And he persistently suggested Chauvin’s knee wasn’t on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes, 29 seconds as prosecutors have argued – suggesting instead it was across Floyd’s back, shoulder blades and arm.

“Many times as an attorney, you’ve got some facts that are just … bad for you. But you either want to downplay them or create another narrative,” said Mike Brandt, a Minneapolis defense attorney who is closely watching the case.

Any good defense attorney has to try and “take what you can get,” Brandt said. “Sometimes we say in a trial, you want to throw as much mud on the wall as you can and hope some of it sticks.”

Nelson, 46, handles cases ranging from drunken driving arrests to homicides, and is one of a dozen attorneys who take turns working with a police union legal defense fund to represent officers charged with crimes. One of his bigger cases involved Amy Senser, the wife of Joe Senser, a former Minnesota Vikings tight end, who was convicted in a 2011 hit-and-run death.

Nelson has joked with witnesses at times and, perhaps to connect with the jury, made light of his occasional fumbles with technology or mispronunciations of words. He’s a Minnesota native who, during a break in the trial, chatted up Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, asking whether he remembered the fight song for Minneapolis Roosevelt – the high school both attended.

Away from the lighter moments, Nelson has appeared well-prepared even as he goes up against a prosecution team many times larger. He has gone hard and consistently at his chief message: that Floyd’s consumption of illegal drugs is to blame for his death, rather than something Chauvin did. An autopsy found fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system.

In the trial’s second week, Nelson played a snippet of officer body-camera video and asked two witnesses whether they could hear Floyd say, “I ate too many drugs.” The audio was hard to make out, but Nelson got a state investigator to agree with his version of the quote. Prosecutors later played a fuller clip and the investigator backtracked, saying he believed Floyd said “I ain’t do no drugs.”

As the state paraded medical experts to testify that Floyd died because his oxygen was cut off, not because of drugs, Nelson challenged the substance of their findings that the amounts detected in Floyd either were small or that people had survived significantly higher levels. But he also frequently framed questions to include the phrase “illicit drugs,” pointed out there’s no legal reason for a person to have methamphetamine in their system, and asked one witness whether he agreed that the number of deaths of people mixing meth and fentanyl had risen.

“This is a typical tactic that we’d say good defense attorneys do,” David Schultz, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who is watching the trial closely, said. “Not all of them are as subtle or gifted as Eric Nelson.”

When the paramedics first to the scene testified, Nelson’s questions included asking them why they did a “load and go” – that is, putting Floyd in their ambulance and moving a few blocks away before beginning treatment. It implied a delay in potentially life-saving treatment, but also fed into another recurring Nelson theme that prosecutors reject: the officers were distracted from caring for Floyd by a threatening crowd.

Video of the scene worked against the argument, showing about 15 people watching as Floyd was restrained, including several teens and girls, though several were shouting at the officers to get off Floyd and check him for a pulse.

Nelson has at times taken aim at the mountain of bystander, surveillance and body-camera video offered by police, suggesting it only tells part of the story and can be misleading. At one point, Nelson used the phrase “camera perspective bias” to suggest that Chauvin’s knee was not where the camera appeared to show it.

He has also argued that Chauvin was merely following the training he’d received throughout a 19-year career, even as several police supervisors – including Arradondo – testified otherwise. Nelson showed jurors an image from department training materials of a trainer with a knee on the neck of an instructor playing a suspect, and got some witnesses to agree generally that use of force may look bad but still be lawful.

Brandt said anything Nelson can do now – while the state is presenting its case – is huge, and will only serve as building blocks that he can use when he starts presenting his own case.

Schultz said attorneys have to be careful. He noted how Nelson’s questioning of Donald Williams, one of the most vocal bystanders, sparked a backlash on social media. Users accused Nelson, who pressed Williams on whether he was angry and repeated his profanities in court, of perpetuating an “angry Black man” trope.

Some jurors might have felt the same, Schultz said.

“You as the attorney have to sell yourself to the jury,” Schultz said. “And an attorney who risks pushing too far risks being disliked by the jury, and that’s damaging to the case, too.”

Pentagon chief declares ‘ironclad’ U.S. commitment to Israel
Author: Associated Press

TEL AVIV, Israel — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday declared an “enduring and ironclad” American commitment to Israel, reinforcing support at a tense time in Israeli politics and amid questions about the Biden administration’s efforts to revive nuclear negotiations with Israel’s archenemy, Iran.

Austin’s first talks in Israel since he became Pentagon chief in January come as the United States seeks to leverage Middle East diplomatic progress made by the Trump administration, which brokered a deal normalizing relations between Israel and several Arab states.

By coincidence or not, the defense secretary arrived as Iran reported that its underground Natanz nuclear facility lost power just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium faster. If Israel caused the blackout, it would further heighten tensions between the two nations, already engaged in a shadow conflict across the wider Middle East. Iran called it an act of “nuclear terrorism,” but did not immediately blame anyone directly.

After meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv, Austin said he had reaffirmed “our commitment to Israel is enduring and ironclad.” Austin made no mention of Iran. Gantz, in his own remarks while standing beside Austin, said his country views the United States as a “full partner” against threats, “not the least, Iran.” Neither official took questions from reporters.

“The Tehran of today presents a strategic threat to international security, the entire Middle East and to the state of Israel,” Gantz said in his prepared statement. “We will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world and of the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region and protect the state of Israel.”

Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, a Tel Aviv think tank, said Austin’s visit is important in part because it is the first by a member of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet.

“They want to show that they did come here with clean hands and they want to listen,” Guzansky said. “They want to listen to Israel’s worries and perhaps other partners’ worries about the negotiation about Iran.”

Austin is steeped in the finer points of Middle East defense and security issues. He served four years as head of U.S. Central Command, capping a 41-year Army career that included commanding U.S. forces in Iraq.

Flying overnight from Washington, Austin arrived in Tel Aviv in the tense aftermath of the country’s fourth inconclusive election in the past two years. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin last week gave embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the difficult task of trying to form a new government.

The key backdrop to Austin’s visit is the Israeli government’s concern about the Biden administration’s attempt to work out an arrangement to reenter the Iran nuclear deal, which in Israel’s view is fatally flawed. Netanyahu has for years described Iran as an existential threat to his nation due to Iran’s alleged pursuit of a nuclear weapon and its support for militant groups like Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Netanyahu, leading a state with its own secret nuclear weapons program, has accused Iran of seeking nuclear weapons to use with its ballistic missiles. Iran has maintained its nuclear program is peaceful. Netanyahu has also kept up his criticism of the Iran nuclear deal, which, if followed, strictly limits Tehran’s ability to enrich and stockpile uranium, blocking it from being able to make a weapon.

“History has taught us that deals like this, with extremist regimes like this, are worth nothing,” Netanyahu said last week.

Last week, an Iranian ship said to be acting as a Revolutionary Guard base off the coast of Yemen was struck by an explosion. Iran blamed Israel for the blast.

In addition to repeated assurances by Republican and Democratic administrations that the United States will endeavor to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge over its regional adversaries, Washington for years has invested heavily in helping Israel develop missile defense technologies.

Iron Dome is one of the most-touted successes in Israel missile defense. It is a mobile anti-rocket system developed to intercept short-range unguided rockets. It has shot down more than 2,000 projectiles fired from the Gaza Strip since it was deployed a decade ago. The U.S. Army recently bought two Iron Dome batteries at the request of Congress to counter cruise missiles.

There are questions in Israel about U.S. intentions in shifting military priorities away from the Middle East in order to focus more intensively on China and Russia as more significant threats to U.S. security.

Iran is the central source of concern by Israel and by support groups in the United States. The Jewish Institute for National Security of America, or JINSA, argued in a report last week that such a shift in U.S. priorities would “send the wrong” signal as the Biden administration begins indirect talks with Iran on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal with international powers. President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018.

“With reduced defensive capabilities and perceived American retrenchment from the region, Tehran and its proxies will only be incentivized to pursue even more dangerous actions to destabilize its neighbors,” the JINSA report said.

Michael Makovsky, the president of JINSA and a former Pentagon official, said Austin’s visit is especially timely, given the Biden administration’s moves toward engaging Iran on its nuclear program.

“Embracing and strengthening Israel sends a pointed signal to Iran, which will only enhance a credible military option against Iran and U.S. leverage in the talks,” Makovsky said in a statement.

Trump goes after Pence, McConnell in speech to party donors
Author: Associated Press

PALM BEACH, Fla. — It was supposed to be a unifying weekend for a Republican Party at war with itself over former President Donald Trump’s divisive leadership. But Trump himself shattered two days of relative peace in his closing remarks to the GOP’s top donors when he insulted the party’s Senate leader and his wife.

Ahead of the invitation-only speech at Trump’s new home inside his Mar-a-Lago resort, the former president’s advisers said he would emphasize his commitment to his party and Republican unity.

Trump veered sharply from prepared remarks Saturday night and instead slammed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as a “stone-cold loser” and mocked McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, who was Trump’s transportation secretary.

Trump also said he was “disappointed” in his vice president, Mike Pence, and used a profanity in assessing McConnell, according to multiple people in attendance who were not authorized to publicly discuss what was said in a private session. He said McConnell had not thanked him properly for putting Chao, who was labor secretary under President George W. Bush, in his Cabinet.

McConnell’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.

Trump’s words left some attendees feeling uncomfortable.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich did not defend Trump as he left Palm Beach on Sunday.

“We are much better off if we keep focusing on the Democrats. Period,” Gingrich said.

Saturday’s speech was the final address of the Republican National Committee’s weekend donor summit in Palm Beach. Most of the RNC’s closed-door gathering was held at a luxury hotel a few miles away from Mar-a-Lago; attendees were bused to Trump’s club for his remarks.

While a significant faction of the Republican Party hopes to move past Trump’s divisive leadership, the location of the event – and the former president’s prominent speaking slot – suggests that the GOP, at least for now, is not ready to replace Trump as its undisputed leader and chief fundraiser.

Ahead of his latest attack on fellow Republicans, Trump’s team reported that his remarks were intended to reinforce his continued leadership role in Republican affairs, a sharp break from past presidents.

“Saturday’s speech will be welcomed words to the Republican donors visiting Mar-a-Lago to hear directly from President Trump,” Trump adviser Jason Miller said. “Palm Beach is the new political power center, and President Trump is the Republican Party’s best messenger.”

The new tension between Trump and establishment-minded Republican leaders comes as GOP officials are trying to play down an internal feud over his role in the party, his commitment to Republican fundraising and his plans for 2024. Trump is also continuing to insist that the last election was “stolen” from him, repeating false claims that Joe Biden won the election only because of voter fraud.

Such claims ultimately fueled the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

McConnell and Chao have been particularly critical of Trump’s role in encouraging the insurrection; Chao resigned her post in protest. Pence, meanwhile, presided over a congressional session that certified Biden’s election victory over Trump.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., was among 10 House Republicans who joined every Democrat in voting to impeach Trump for inspiring the Jan. 6 attack. Seven Republican senators later voted to convict Trump, even after he had left office.

“The former president is using the same language that he knows provoked violence on Jan 6. As a party, we need to be focused on the future, we need to be focused on embracing the Constitution, not embracing insurrection,” Cheney told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Trump and his allies have already promised to fuel primary challenges against Cheney and those Republicans who supported his impeachment.

And while the Republican National Committee signaled its commitment to Trump by hosting its spring donor summit at his doorstep, Trump’s commitment to the GOP is far from certain.

Earlier in the year, he raised the possibility of creating a new political party. Just a month ago, Trump’s political action committee sent letters to the RNC and others asking them to “immediately cease and desist the unauthorized use of President Donald J. Trump’s name, image, and/or likeness in all fundraising, persuasion, and/or issue speech.”

GOP officials saw Trump’s weekend participation as a sign that he is willing to lend his name to the party. At the same time, he continues to aggressively accumulate campaign cash to fuel his own political ambitions.

Trump has accumulated a total of roughly $85 million so far, a small fortune that rivals the RNC’s bank account. He has teased the prospect of another presidential run in 2024, but has also positioned himself to play the role of kingmaker for Republicans who may run if he does not.

The weekend gathering featured Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, among other early 2024 prospects.

In his remarks Friday night, Cotton leaned into the GOP’s culture wars, attacking the Democrats’ positions on transgender youth, voter ID laws and Major League Baseball’s decision to move its All-Star Game to protest Republican voting laws.

DeSantis, who spoke before Trump on Saturday night, also seized on corporations and business leaders who have begun joining the Democrats’ fight against GOP-backed voting legislation moving through state legislatures across the country, including Florida. Critics and voting experts suggest the new laws would make it more difficult for Black Americans and Latinos to cast ballots.

DeSantis specifically warned Saturday that there would be “consequences” for business leaders who pressure lawmakers in Florida as they did in Georgia. But neither DeSantis nor Cotton attacked any fellow Republicans.

Meanwhile, the second-ranking Republican senator, South Dakota’s John Thune, gently condemned Trump’s attack on McConnell.

“I think a lot of that rhetoric is – you know, it’s part of the style and tone that comes with the former president,” Thune said on “Fox News Sunday.” “But I think he and Mitch McConnell have a common goal, and that is getting the majority back in 2022. And in the end, hopefully that will be the thing that unites us, because if we want to defeat and succeed against the Democrats and get that majority back, that’s the best way to do it.”

For this hospice nurse, the COVID-19 shot came too late
Author: Heidi de Marco, Kaiser Health News

CORONA, Calif. – Antonio Espinoza loved the Los Angeles Dodgers. He loved them so much that he was laid to rest in his favorite Dodgers jersey. His family and friends, including his 3-year-old son, donned a sea of blue-and-white baseball shirts and caps in his honor.

Espinoza died at age 36 of COVID-19, just days after he got his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. He was a hospice nurse who put his life in danger to help COVID-19 patients and others have a peaceful death.

When COVID-19 hit, it was no surprise to his family that this “gentle giant,” as friends and family called him, stepped up to the plate.

“His attitude was like, ‘No, I’m not going to be scared,'” said Nancy Espinoza, his wife of 10 years. “This is our time to shine,” he told her. “‘I became a nurse for a reason.'”

As a hospice nurse and chief nursing officer for Calstro Hospice in Montclair, California, Espinoza routinely made house calls, visited assisted living facilities and performed death visits – during which hospice nurses pronounce patients dead.

Hospice workers aren’t just doctors and nurses, but also include home health aides, social workers, chaplains and counselors. In the past year, they have frequented some of the highest-risk environments, such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities and patients’ homes.

Hospice requires intimate patient care, and the additional safety requirements and need for personal protective equipment made it challenging, said Alicia Murray, board president of the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association. But hospice workers adapted, she said, knowing they might be the only people who could comfort dying patients when family members were not allowed to visit medical and long-term care facilities.

“They’re taking care of dying people and, in particular, people dying of COVID who may be spewing out the virus,” said Dr. Karl Steinberg, a geriatrician and palliative care specialist who is the medical director of Hospice by the Sea in Solana Beach, California, and several nursing homes.

A few months into the pandemic, when Calstro Hospice began caring for COVID-19 patients, Espinoza helped develop a COVID-19 unit. Part of his job was to make sure staff members had sufficient personal protective gear, including himself.

“Some people had a hard time getting a hold of all the PPE gear, but his office had adequate equipment,” his wife said. Right before he got sick, he was excited to receive a big shipment of gowns, N95 masks, booties and face shields from San Bernardino County, she said.

Espinoza fell ill a few days after his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 5, but went to work thinking it was vaccine-related. “He had kind of a sore throat and felt a little bit under the weather, but nothing major,” said Nancy Espinoza. His symptoms progressed to a fever and chills and he tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 10.

Seven other Calstro Hospice staff members also got COVID-19 during the pandemic, said Jennifer Arrington, Calstro Hospice’s director of patient care services.

Espinoza was a victim of bad timing, according to Dr. Lucy Horton, infectious disease specialist and associate professor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

The virus’s incubation period averages five to seven days, she explained. “If you test positive a few days after the vaccine, chances are you actually got exposed before you even got your first dose,” she said.

Horton said people aren’t fully vaccinated until at least 14 days after their second dose of a two-dose vaccine, or their first dose of a one-dose version. Early after the first dose, people don’t reap the benefit of the vaccine yet, she said.

“Even after you’re fully vaccinated, there still is a remaining risk,” said Horton, co-author of a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine about post-vaccination infection rates among health care workers in California. “Even if it’s so much lower, it’s still present.”

Espinoza knew he wanted to care for others and go into health care since he was in high school, and realized the Hispanic community needed Latino nurses in hospice care, his wife said. “He made it his purpose to help the Hispanic community understand hospice care and not be afraid of it,” she said.

On Jan. 15, Nancy Espinoza and the couple’s toddler, Ezekiel, spoke to Antonio over the phone for the last time. “I love you” were the last words she heard her husband say.

She was allowed to visit him right before he died on Jan. 25. He was intubated with an oxygen level of 25%.

Nancy Espinoza stood in the room alone with her husband for the last time. “I just wanted to be able to hold his hand and pray for him,” she said. “I wanted him to know that he wasn’t alone.”

(KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation. This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.)

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