Scientists will study brain of former NFL player who police say killed five people then took his own life



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Pennsylvania's Democratic Senate race raises simmering divisions inside the party



Following President Joe Biden’s victory last November — and his early success in coalescing Democratic lawmakers behind his agenda — overlapping questions of representation and ideology are simmering again in Pennsylvania as the Senate primary field grows.

Though progressive policies have largely been embraced by the Democratic mainstream, the contest is shaping up as a test of whether candidates who support ambitious projects like “Medicare for All” and aggressive action on climate change can succeed in such a politically divided state. Moderates are also under pressure — this time to find a candidate who can match the verve of the more progressive early entrees and motivate the party’s increasingly liberal base to turn out in what is expected to be a challenging midterm season for their party.

The field is already three-deep, with one more preparing to jump in, and could potentially double in size by the time next year’s primary swings into full gear.

Lt. Gov John Fetterman — the only current Senate candidate to have won statewide office — made the first big splash of the race when he announced a $3.9 million first quarter fundraising haul, a remarkable sum that his campaign said “(solidified) his position as the clear Democratic frontrunner in Pennsylvania.” But the release of the gaudy numbers followed news a day earlier that Braddock Mayor Chardae Jones, Fetterman’s successor, chose to endorse another leading progressive, the Philadelphia-based State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who is already running with the support of the national Working Families Party.

Kenyatta told CNN that he hoped Jones’ support — which he proactively sought — should be a sign to voters that “a year out, this campaign is certainly not locked up for anybody.”

But in separate interviews this week, Fetterman and Kenyatta declined to frame the coming campaign as a referendum on any wing of the party. Both praised the new President and played up their progressive bona fides, but backed off the label tag itself — a potential sign that the first class of Biden era Democratic candidates are keen to portray their views as mainstream and, in the case of Kenyatta, emphasize a potentially barrier-breaking background to excite primary voters.

No appetite for a food fight

Kenyatta, 30, was an early endorser of then-candidate Biden ahead of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary — a decision he believes was validated not only by Biden’s electoral success but the President’s ability, so far, to unify competing factions of the party in support of his legislative agenda.

Though his own politics are more closely aligned with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Kenyatta downplayed the implications of the party’s ideological divisions. His campaign, he said, was fueled more by a frustration with the makeup of the Senate — where the challenges faced by a Black gay man like him and a working poor family like his, are for most lawmakers almost entirely academic.

“You can’t learn everything based on a white paper or based on a briefing you got from a staffer,” Kenyatta said. “I mean, with some of this sh*t, you just kind of had to be there.”

For the young state lawmaker, whose parents had both died by the time he turned 27, that meant moving around a lot as a kid and watching his mother, a diabetic, ration her insulin so she could afford to buy food for him and his siblings.

“My mom, before she died, I think the highest wage she ever got was $12.50 (an hour). That’s not represented in the Senate,” he said. “And yet, working people are told, ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry, working person, we’ll take care of you. We’ll be fighting for you.’ And it’s like, will you? Will you, really?”

Kenyatta is also pitching himself as the candidate best-suited to rev up Democratic voters, especially those who have historically sat out non-presidential campaigns, ahead of next fall’s general election.

“We need to be doubling down, tripling down, trying to make sure those voters turn out. If you think about midterm elections, you always see a downturn in African-American turnout. You see a downturn in turnout among young people,” Kenyatta said. “When Black folks are on the ballot, more Black people vote. When young people are on the ballot, more young people vote.”

But as the field grows in Pennsylvania, new candidates — with compelling personal stories and credible claims to a winning coalition of support — seem to emerge by the day. On Monday, Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chairwoman of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, made her official entry into the race to the delight of some Democrats hoping to elect the state’s first woman senator. State Sen. Sharif Street, like Kenyatta, represents a district in Philadelphia and is expected to formally launch a campaign soon.

And that’s before a trio of House Democrats — Reps. Conor Lamb, Chrissy Houlahan and Madeleine Dean — decide whether to join the contest.

The House members will first have calculations to make about what their districts will look like after being redrawn by a GOP state legislature and, particularly in Lamb’s case, whether a Senate run might mean effectively handing over his seat in western Pennsylvania to a Republican. Houlahan, an Air Force veteran, has stockpiled about $3.5 million in campaign cash, according to spokesman Connor Lounsbury, and Dean’s star has risen in progressive circles since her turn as an impeachment manager in the second impeachment trial of Trump.

The frontrunner’s long road

The Fetterman campaign’s claim to frontrunner status was echoed by a number of Democratic operatives and Keystone State political veterans. Former Gov. Ed Rendell told CNN that he considers Fetterman the favorite to win the Democratic nomination and marveled at the lieutenant governor’s unique “capacity” to raise small dollar donations.

But Rendell, for so long the moderate totem of Pennsylvania politics, also expressed concern that Fetterman might be both too progressive to succeed in a general election and, because he is a relative stranger to the Democratic strongholds in Philadelphia and its suburbs, could struggle to compete there with more familiar faces.

The lieutenant governor’s sometimes gruff political style and appearance — he’s 6-foot-9 and unafraid of the tattoo artist’s needle — were, Rendell said, less of a worry.

“He’s a little unusual — different. These days in politics, maybe that’s more of an asset than it would’ve been five years ago,” Rendell said. “He’s going to be an attractive candidate in the primary.”

In an interview, Fetterman spoke about the politics of the last decade, but only to remind voters that, while the political dynamics around him have changed, his message has not. Where his longtime support for gay marriage and marijuana legalization once made him an liberal outlier, those issues have since become mainstream Democratic causes.

“I went from being considered a very strong, progressive voice in 2015 and now I don’t even consider it progressive. I think the argument is over within the Democratic Party, and I think anyone who’s fair-minded would agree with that,” Fetterman said. On issues like the $15 minimum wage, “legalizing marijuana or common sense gun reform, the support for unions, support for infrastructure — I mean, these are all (considered) common sense things now. I don’t really consider that ‘progressive’ in that sense.”

What did change for Fetterman, and what he said ultimately sealed his decision to run for Senate, was the aftermath of the 2020 election, as mainstream Republicans routinely parroted Trump’s lies about election fraud in a disinformation campaign that culminated with the deadly Capitol insurrection.

“I was appalled. And then, of course, like for many people, January 6 was just astonishing to me,” Fetterman said, referring to the Trump supporter-led riot. “I joked early on (in the campaign), I said, ‘If I’m your next senator, I promise to be 100% sedition-free.’ So everything just kind of crystallized.”

Though Fetterman has not backed off his political message, his desire to litigate intra-party rifts is all but gone. He demurred when asked to describe the makeup of his coalition, instead pointing to the electoral scoreboard — one that, after finishing a distant third in the party’s 2016 Senate primary, showed him overwhelming the Democratic primary field in his 2018 run for lieutenant governor. Fetterman and incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf blew out their Republican rivals in the fall, outpacing Wolf and former Lt. Gov. Mike Stack’s margin four years earlier.

“My coalition is the one that I’ve already assembled. My coalition is being one half of a team that smashed (GOP gubernatorial nominee) Scott Wagner back to the Stone Age back in 2018, by 850,000 votes. And won 40% in a crowded Democratic primary,” Fetterman said. “My coalition are the people that agree with these core, basic, moral, fundamentally fair and equitable policies.”

This time out, though, with the stakes even higher and in the aftermath of last summer’s national reckoning on racial inequality, Fetterman has faced renewed questions over a January 2013 incident in which he left his home, shotgun in tow, to confront what turned out to be an unarmed Black jogger, after hearing the sound of gunshots in the area and calling 911.

Asked about controversy surrounding the episode, Fetterman said that “at no point during that episode was I ever aware of this individual’s race” and noted, as he has in other interviews and a Medium post, that the Sandy Hook massacre had taken place a little more than a month before. The jogger, he said, was going in the direction of a local elementary school.

“Profiling and the history in minority communities is a real thing,” Fetterman added, “so I understand why people might be concerned, but this had nothing to do with race.”

Kenyatta mostly passed on criticizing Fetterman over the confrontation. But he did question the his rival’s decision-making — and the potentially troubling example it might set for others.

“We cannot have people dishing out vigilante justice in communities and be able to say, well, you know, there’s gun violence in this community, thereby, if I heard something, then I’m justified in going out and taking whatever weapon I have to chase down whoever the person is,” Kenyatta told CNN. “I’ve said that repeatedly and so my hope is that John apologizes, that he understands why that situation is problematic.”

The national party machines get into gear

No matter who ultimately emerges victorious from the Democratic primary, the Republican Party’s Senate campaign arm is already working to cast the nominee as an out-of-step liberal running in a more conservative state than outsiders realize.

“Campaigns are marathons, but Democrat candidates in Pennsylvania are already sprinting as far left as possible, embracing Bernie Sanders’ agenda to ban fracking and destroy Pennsylvania energy jobs,” said National Republican Senatorial Campaign committee spokeswoman Lizzie Litzow.

Neither Fetterman or Kenyatta support a fracking ban, though both have argued that the state needs to pivot — alongside energy companies — to clean technologies. Kenyatta said he supported a “moratorium on new wells” and suggested there could be jobs in capping old, disused ones.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Stewart Boss made no secret of the fact that Pennsylvania “is a top target” for the party in 2022, and he expressed confidence that the party’s candidates would enter the cycle in good stead, owing to the popularity of Biden’s signature $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill.

“With Washington Republicans already obstructing desperately needed coronavirus relief and now pledging to oppose a historic investment in rebuilding our infrastructure and creating good-paying jobs,” Boss said, “the Republican nominee will have to defend an agenda that’s deeply out of touch with Pennsylvania voters.”

The Republican primary, which is equally unsettled, could also pose challenging questions to a GOP still reckoning with its future in the shadow of a former President, who reportedly plans to be an active campaigner — and would-be kingmaker — in next year’s contests. He has already begun to dole out endorsements to loyalists and prod prospective challengers to take on those who have crossed him.

Jeff Bartos, a real estate developer who lost the lieutenant governor’s race against Fetterman in 2018, recently announced he raised nearly $1.2 million in the first three weeks of his campaign. Rep. Mike Kelly and former Rep. Ryan Costello, one of the vanishingly few Republicans who have been publicly critical of Trump in the past, along with Trump’s ambassador to Denmark, Carla Sands, and his Navy secretary, Kenneth Braithwaite, are other potential GOP candidates.

Trump has not yet weighed in on the primary.



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Matt Gaetz shows Donald Trump's defiant style is here to stay



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Supreme Court again blocks California Covid restriction on religious activities


The unsigned order for the high court majority also revealed the deep ideological fissure, with conservatives (including the three appointees of former President Donald Trump) in control and liberals dissenting bitterly.

Chief Justice John Roberts also dissented, although he did not sign the statement by the three justices on the left, written by Justice Elena Kagan.

“In ordering California to weaken its restrictions on at-home gatherings, the majority yet again insists on treating unlike cases, not like ones, equivalently,” Kagan wrote, adding that “the law does not require that the State equally treat apples and watermelons.”

“And (the majority) once more commands California to ignore its experts’ scientific findings, thus impairing the State’s effort to address a public health emergency.”

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, religious adherents have implored the justices to prevent certain state health restrictions affecting religious services and they have notably prevailed since October’s addition of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, succeeding the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Friday’s order, issued just before midnight, arose from a California prohibition on gatherings of people from more than three households and affected certain Bible study and prayer meetings held in a home.

“California treats some comparable secular activities more favorably than at-home religious exercise,” the Supreme Court majority said in the order, “permitting hair salons, retail stores, personal care services, movie theaters, private suites at sporting events and concerts, and indoor restaurants to bring together more than three households at a time.”

The court said that a lower US appellate court had “erroneously rejected” that comparison, based on prior high-court decisions involving public buildings, as opposed to private buildings. The majority acknowledged that California officials were changing the challenged policy on April 15 but said such “officials with a track record of moving the goalposts retain authority to reinstate those heightened restrictions at any time.”

Referring to the lower appellate court which had permitted the California household restriction, the majority added, “This is the fifth time the (Supreme) Court has summarily rejected the Ninth Circuit’s analysis of California’s COVID restrictions on religious exercise.”

Those in the majority were Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Barrett.

The court’s order noted that Roberts would have denied the challengers’ request for high court intervention.

Supreme Court to hear cases by phone through remainder of current session

In her dissent, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer, Kagan wrote, “The First Amendment requires that a State treat religious conduct as well as the State treats comparable secular conduct. Sometimes finding the right secular analogue may raise hard questions. But not today. California limits religious gatherings in homes to three households. If the State also limits all secular gatherings in homes to three households, it has complied with the First Amendment. And the State does exactly that: It has adopted a blanket restriction on at-home gatherings of all kinds, religious and secular alike.”

Kagan noted that lower court judges found that when people gather in social settings, their interactions are likely to be longer than in a commercial setting and involve prolonged conversations. Private homes are likely to be less ventilated, she noted, with less mask-wearing.

Kagan concluded, “Because the majority continues to disregard law and facts alike, I respectfully dissent…”

In the case before the justices, Santa Clara County pastor Jeremy Wong and Karen Busch said the restrictions violated their First Amendment free-exercise rights by preventing their usual weekly Bible study and prayer sessions with eight to 12 individuals.

In their request for emergency intervention, they said they “sincerely believe assembling for small-group, ‘house church’ fellowship is just as indispensable to their faith as attending Mass is for a Catholic. Yet for over a year now, California has completely prohibited or substantially restricted those ‘gatherings’ and many others.”

“By contrast,” their request to the court said, “the State allows countless other activities to take place outdoors without any numerical limitations, from weddings and funerals to secular cultural events and political rallies. It also permits more than three households to congregate inside buses, trains, universities, airports, barber shops, government offices, movie studios, tattoo parlors, salons, and other commercial venues.”

But California state officials, as they urged the justices not to get involved, said the limit related to members of more than three households was “entirely neutral toward religion” and applies to gatherings for any purpose, secular or religious.

“In any event,” lawyers for Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom told the high court, “the State recently announced that the challenged policy will be significantly modified on April 15. … In light of improvements in the rates of infection, hospitalization, and death, as well the growing number of vaccinated individuals, the State will be substantially relaxing its restrictions on multiple-household gatherings.”

The case is Tandon v Newsom.



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'An existential threat': The Republicans calling for their party to reject QAnon conspiracy theories


“When we say QAnon, you have the sort of extreme forms, but you also just have this softer, gradual undermining of any shared, collective sense of truth,” Meijer said. The Michigan freshman believes conspiracy theories fuel “incredibly unrealistic and unachievable expectations” and “a cycle of disillusionment and alienation” that could lead conservative voters to sit out elections or, in a worst-case scenario, turn to political violence, like what happened on January 6.

How deeply far-right conspiracy theories take hold within the Republican Party, and what the party does to either embrace or reject them, will have major consequences for the future of the GOP and American politics.

Meijer is far from the only Republican in Congress disturbed by the rise of QAnon, but he is one of a rare few willing to publicly and repeatedly denounce it.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger is seen during a hearing on Capitol Hill in September.
Republicans who speak out risk a backlash, and many would rather dismiss, downplay or ignore the issue. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia, famously signaled outright support for the conspiracy theory before she was elected to office, though she has recently attempted to distance herself from it.

CNN reached out to the offices of more than a dozen GOP members of Congress to request interviews for this story, and only two agreed to participate.

The lonely voices within the GOP who continue to take a stand must now grapple with what it would take for the party to turn away from conspiracy theories.

Most recognize they face a difficult fight, but some hope they may be able to grow their ranks in Congress in the future, and one upcoming congressional election in Texas will serve as an early test of whether an anti-conspiracy theory message can resonate in a red district.

‘A long-term battle for the soul of the party’

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who also voted to impeach Trump, may be the loudest voice within the Republican Party taking on QAnon.

He recently launched a political action committee as part of an effort he’s calling “Country First” that seeks to counter the GOP’s embrace of conspiracy theories and the former President. The congressman has endorsed the nine other House Republicans who voted to impeach over the Capitol attack as they now face down the potential threat of primary challenges.
Kinzinger is on a mission to save the Republican Party. The question is whether the party wants saving
He has also endorsed a Texas GOP congressional candidate, Michael Wood, who is running in a crowded field in the state’s sixth district on a platform calling for Republicans to turn away from Trump and reject conspiracy theories. Wood is running in a special election taking place on May 1 to fill the House seat previously held by the late Republican Rep. Ron Wright, who died in February after contracting Covid.
“We are not the party of conspiracy theories and QAnon. We can be again the party of ideas,” Wood says in a video on his campaign website.
Wood blames Trump for the spread of conspiracy theories within the party, and believes Republicans must repudiate Trump to defeat QAnon. Trump has long embraced conspiracy theories, including birtherism. He forcefully pushed the lie that the election was stolen from him and while he was in office, he praised QAnon followers for supporting him and refused to denounce the conspiracy theory.

“I think he bears direct responsibility for the rise of conspiratorial thinking in the Republican Party and the conservative movement as a whole,” Wood said in an interview. “The big lie that he promulgated after Election Day did a whole lot of harm to our civic institutions.”

Michael Wood is running in the Republican primary for a US House seat in Texas.

Kinzinger hopes that whatever the outcome in the special election, his endorsement will show like-minded Republicans they’re not alone and encourage others to run for office on a similar platform.

“I think what’s important is that people see there are people out there that support you, that will back you if you do the right thing,” he said. “It’s a long-term battle for the soul of the party.”

The Illinois congressman describes the danger he believes QAnon poses in stark terms, saying he’s concerned its corrosive impact threatens to pull apart the very fabric of American democracy.

“Do I think there’s going to be a civil war? No. Do I rule it out? No. Do I think it’s a concern, do I think it’s something we have to be worried about? Yeah,” he said.

‘We’re facts-based pariahs’

Former GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman of Virginia is outspoken in his opposition to QAnon, and he believes that is part of the reason he was voted out of office.

While serving in Congress, Riggleman co-sponsored a bipartisan resolution condemning QAnon that passed in the House overwhelmingly, though seventeen Republicans voted in opposition and 34 didn’t vote at all. But he thinks most Republican lawmakers “want to have it both ways” when it comes to the issue of conspiracy theories.

The former congressman said Republicans frequently try to make it look like they’re standing up for principle, while at the same time “winking and nodding” at conspiracy theories in an effort to get more votes.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how widespread belief in QAnon is in the Republican Party. According to the Pew Research Center, roughly a quarter of Republicans who know about QAnon view its supporters favorably, though nearly half of Republicans say they know nothing at all about the conspiracy theory.
Then Rep. Denver Riggleman, of Virginia is seen with his Republican colleagues in September on Capitol Hill.

Riggleman believes a major problem right now is that there’s a strong “contingent of GOP voters who have completely lost themselves in the rabbit hole of conspiracies, disinformation and grievance politics,” and most Republican lawmakers “want to get re-elected so they would rather have people like me shut the hell up, even though they know I’m right.”

“It’s almost like we’re facts-based pariahs that are trying to sort of rein in this insanity that’s gone on,” he said.

“It does feel lonely sometimes in terms of being the outspoken voice,” Kinzinger said. “The reality is I think if you’re a sitting member of Congress it’s easy to say, I’m going to ignore this.”

Wood, the Texas congressional candidate, is frustrated that, in his view, most GOP congressional leaders have not done enough to denounce QAnon conspiracy theories.

'Q: Into the Storm' seeks to pull back the curtain on QAnon's origins
“I’ve been incredibly disappointed by Republican leadership both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate,” he said, though he praised Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, who voted to impeach Trump over the attack on the Capitol and has said the GOP “cannot become the party of QAnon.”
CNN reached out to House and Senate GOP leadership offices for comment. McConnell’s office pointed to the Senate Minority Leader’s past criticism of Greene where he said earlier this year that “looney lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican party and our country.”
Wood specifically takes issue with House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy’s decision to meet with Trump to discuss efforts to take back the House majority after the riots, and believes the move demonstrated both a lack of courage and a losing strategy.

“Kevin McCarthy has been a giant disappointment. He was elected leader for a reason and he hasn’t acted like a leader at all over the past few months,” he said.

‘An apocalyptic, messianic conspiracy theory’

As the GOP charts a path forward after Trump lost the White House, Kinzinger said he does not want to see Republicans push voting laws based on false claims of widespread election fraud.

“The narrative is almost we have to tighten our election system so that the next election isn’t stolen again, and that is garbage,” he said.

Republicans in Georgia recently sped a sweeping elections bill into law, making it the first presidential battleground to impose new voting restrictions following Biden’s victory in the state. Republicans cast the measure, which has sparked intense national controversy, as necessary to boost confidence in elections after the 2020 election saw Trump make repeated and unsubstantiated claims of fraud.

The Illinois congressman said that he hasn’t followed the details of the Georgia law closely and thinks that some of the Democratic pushback has been “overblown,” but he also believes there is valid criticism that it was enacted in reaction to false claims of widespread voter fraud.

From left, Rep. Pete Meijer, Rep. Adam Kinzinger and former Rep. Denver Riggleman.

Kinzinger hopes that the January 6 Capitol attack will ultimately prove to be a “turning point” for the Republican Party, but thinks it may take quite some time to undo the damage that was done.

“I think it will be a turning point in the long run. I think in the short-term there were a number of people who have kind of woken up to it, but there’s a number who haven’t,” he said.

Riggleman thinks QAnon has taken hold because it gives people something to believe in. “It’s an apocalyptic, messianic conspiracy theory that allows people to almost play act in this good versus evil battle against the global forces of evil,” he said, adding that people become “wrapped up in that” and it becomes “difficult to disentangle them from those theories.”

Is the GOP's extremist wing now too big to fail?

Meijer is concerned that embracing conspiracy theories like QAnon could make it harder for the GOP to recalibrate and rebuild after losing the White House and being in the minority in both chambers.

“I think it’s all part of this broader trend of blame casting,” the congressman said. “In the case of QAnon, it’s well, why am I in the position I’m in? Well, it’s because others are holding me down. Why did we lose this election? Well, it wasn’t because our candidate wasn’t the best or had made mistakes, it was because it was stolen. It’s these ways of distancing oneself from responsibility and accountability.”

As one of the Republicans warning about the dangers of QAnon and conspiracy theory thinking, Meijer understands what he’s up against, but he says he’s determined to keep speaking out.

“It’s important to not let the record go uncorrected and to continue to speak the truth,” Meijer said. “It’s something I definitely do at my peril, both politically and otherwise, but I didn’t run for office to seek the easy path and I’m certainly not going to cower away from what I think is an important responsibility.”

CNN’s Kelly Mena contributed to this report.



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Frustration grows at US military bases overseas over slow pace of vaccine rollout


“We’re a bit stranded over here,” Emily Starbuck Gerson, a military spouse based at Royal Air Force Lakenheath Air Force Base in England, said. “The UK and Europe has been much stricter in how they handled COVID, so a lot of us has been under these onerous lockdowns … we’re already so far from our support system and loved ones and navigating a global pandemic while living abroad … so then not being able to access a vaccine on top of that is difficult.”

Defense Health Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place said that the Department of Defense will open vaccine appointments to “all tiers” on April 19, which is consistent when President Joe Biden has said all adult Americans will be eligible to be vaccinated.

Place said that the Department of Defense decided to distribute 14% of the doses the Department received to overseas bases even though only 7% of the DoD eligible population live on them.

CNN spoke with more than a dozen people at bases in Britain, Germany and Belgium. They described a lack of transparency from military leaders about when doses were going to arrive. In some cases, no vaccines arrived for weeks and in one instance at a base in Germany, second doses were canceled for a group that had received a first dose.

“The latest update they’ve given is they’re waiting on shipments, and they are expecting shipments in early May, but when you ask detailed questions, like when is this group going to be able to get them those typically get ignored,” Franzis Dunn, a military spouse based in the Kaiserslautern Military Community in Germany, told CNN.

Overseas service members and their families rely on the military health care system and each base has a health clinic that serves its community.

“Because we’re overseas, there’s no ability to go off installation like you can stateside you know to a pharmacy or your state or whatever that you’re stationed at doing a COVID drive, you can always get in with them, but here it’s just not possible,” a military member based at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Belgium said. “To say it’s been problematic is I think being nice.”

Supply problems

Military leaders speaking at the Pentagon about vaccine distribution overseas said that the Moderna vaccine has been the primary one shipped to Europe, because many bases overseas don’t have the ultra-cold storage facilities to store the Pfizer vaccine.

Place said the recent issue at a facility in Baltimore that caused 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be thrown out “has affected” the Department of Defense vaccine allocation supply.

“We targeted the overseas community for our J&J vaccine supply, so we’re actively exploring other means to offset this temporary shortage of the J&J product,” Place said.

AstraZeneca's troubles dent global vaccination hopes

There are 244,000 military members and dependents in US European Command who will need to receive vaccines, US. European Command Chief of Public Affairs Capt. Wendy Snyder told CNN in an email. Out of all eligible DoD beneficiaries associated with US European Command, 21% had received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 20% were fully vaccinated as of April 2, a US EUCOM spokesperson said in an email.

Out of DoD beneficiaries in the United States, 1,369,209 people have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 765,501 people are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data. While more than 68.2 million people have received two doses, more than a third of Americans — or 113.7 million — have received at least one dose, including more than 43% [44%] of adults and nearly 77% of people age 65 or older, according to CDC data published on Thursday.

The Pentagon says the pace of overseas vaccinations will pick up.

“We should be able to vaccinate at least 100,000 beneficiaries in the coming weeks,” Army Maj. Gen. Jill K. Faris of US Army Medical Command said during the briefing on April 8.

Waiting on doses

The Department of Defense has a tiered system to administer vaccines, much like the rest of the United States. In tiers 1a through 1c, essential workers, those who are about to be deployed, elderly and those with high-risk health issues are prioritized. Tier 2 includes everyone else.

People that CNN spoke with at bases in Europe said their bases are still working through tiers 1a and 1b, and some have started administering vaccines to those in tier 1c. During the press conference, Place said that both bases overseas and in the US had moved into tier 2. Updates from local military health clinics in Germany posted on Facebook this week suggest otherwise.

At US. Army Health Clinic Grafenwoehr, located at Tower Barracks in Germany which provides health care to 15,000 soldiers and their families, there were no vaccinations given last week, according to an update posted on Facebook on April 5. This week, the clinic is administering vaccines to individuals who meet the criteria for tier 1b and 1c, the update said.

The US needs a Marshall Plan for global vaccinations

At US Army Health Clinic Vilseck, which is located in the southern part of the Grafenwoehr Training Area, no vaccinations were given last week, according to an update on the clinic’s Facebook page posted April 5. The update says they will continue to vaccinate populations in tiers 1b and 1c in the coming weeks. At US Army Health Clinic Hohenfels, which serves 6,000 soldiers and their families, no vaccinations were received last week or this week, and none were administered, an update from the clinic posted on their Facebook page on April 5 said.

For military members and their families based overseas, they rely on updates from their health clinics posted online and occasional town halls from their local military leaders. While military leaders have taken their questions on when the vaccine will become available, they often don’t have very specific information to offer, the people CNN spoke with said.

“There hasn’t been transparency. There really hasn’t been a lot of information provided,” a military spouse in Belgium told CNN. “They do these weekly updates on the health care page here, the health care facility, but they are just kind of the same thing copy and pasted every week.”

Because of the lack of information and access, some have considered flying home to the United States to get a vaccine and then flying back, but they would have to take personal time and cover the expense of traveling out of pocket.

“I got an invitation to schedule a vaccine at my parents’ house last week,” the military spouse based in Belgium said. “I honestly considered flying back in order to get it, and I know that other spouses have done that.”

Many who have grown frustrated with the lack of information from military leaders have reached out to members of Congress asking for more information.

Rep. Mike Turner, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on March 17 asking the Secretary to prioritize sending vaccines to bases overseas.

“I understand the logistical challenges associated with distributing and administering the vaccine, particularly abroad; however, I want to ensure all DoD personnel have the opportunity be vaccinated so they can focus on the mission instead of the pandemic,” Turner, an Ohio Republican, wrote in his letter to Austin.

Military leaders at the Pentagon say that vaccines will be shipped to bases overseas in the coming weeks.

“We have roughly 12,000 allocations arriving this week and should have a similar number if not increases arriving in the subsequent weeks,” Faris said during the briefing. “As of this week, US army Europe and Africa has administered at least 37,000 covid-19 vaccine doses and 17,000 to fully vaccinated members in Europe.”

In the meantime, those based overseas continue to check online for updates from their military health clinics and hope that their appointment comes soon.

“I think there’d be a lot less frustration if they came out and said, you know, we’ve had more cases in this situation, so we’ve decided to prioritize these people, so you’re just going to have to wait. “Okay, I mean, I think most of us can wait, you know if it’s explained why we’re waiting” Valerie Avella, a military spouse based in Belgium, said. “Somebody must know why it’s not here, or when more is coming.”

CNN’s Oren Liebermann contributed to this report.



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Red states are vaccinating at a lower rate than blue states



The polling has suggested all along that Republicans would be less likely to get vaccinations than Democrats — and this is now being seen in the real world.

Blue states are starting to outpace red states when it comes to vaccinations, and the instances where that isn’t the case are often explained by other expected demographic patterns.

Let’s first look at the percentage of those 18 and older with at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

The top 10 states on this metric are New Hampshire, New Mexico, South Dakota, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maine, Vermont, Alaska, and Minnesota and Rhode Island tied. Nearly all of these are states won by President Joe Biden last November, with Alaska and South Dakota as the exceptions.

Now look at the bottom 10 states on this metric: Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana, Indiana, Wyoming, Missouri, Arkansas and Idaho. Former President Donald Trump won all of these states last year, except for Georgia.

Right now, 46% of those 18 and older in the average state Biden won have had at least one dose of the vaccine. That drops to 41% in the average state Trump won.

You could also look at the number of vaccines each state has administered for every 100,000 people 18 and older by the amount they have received for every 100,000 people 18 years and older. The story is pretty much the same.

Nine of the top 10 states on this metric are states Biden won last year. Eight of the bottom 10 states for vaccination are ones Trump won in 2020.

None of this should be surprising, examining the polling data. An NPR/Marist Poll in the field in late March suggested that we should be seeing a pattern just like this one.

That poll, like others, found that Democrats were far more likely to take the vaccine than Republicans were. Among Democrats, 47% said they had already received one dose of the vaccine. Just 33% of Republicans said they had. When asked whether they would eventually get it, 42% of Democrats said yes, compared with 23% of Republicans.

In other words, the gap that we’re already seeing between blue states and red states in terms of vaccination rates is more than likely to widen.

Republicans and conservatives from Jerry Falwell Jr. to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to Trump have tried to make sure it doesn’t widen and have spoken out in favor of the vaccines. Whether those efforts pay off with more Republicans willing to get vaccinated isn’t clear.

It won’t be easy.

There are a lot of intersecting causes for why different people have been less likely to get vaccinated.

Most of the states where vaccination rates are lowest happen to be ones where the Black population is high and where the percentage who graduated from college was low, while the reverse is true in the states with high vaccination rates. Indeed, you can explain nearly 50% of the variation in vaccine rates from state to state just by knowing what percentage of the adult population is Black and what percentage has a college degree.

Even if we are able to raise the vaccination rates in one of the lagging groups, it doesn’t mean the other ones won’t continue to be an issue.



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Outside group cites Senate Ethics Committee rebuke of Larry Craig in pushing for probe of Blackburn


The two situations are markedly different — namely that Craig pleaded guilty for disorderly conduct following a 2007 bathroom sex sting. But a left-leaning outside group sees a direct comparison to the two episodes, accusing Blackburn of also using her influence inappropriately — this time to evade a potential traffic violation against one of her aides, though it’s uncertain any probe of her conduct will take place.

Craig was reprimanded by the panel for his actions during his infamous bathroom incident 14 years ago after he showed a police officer his business card, identifying himself as a US senator. “What do you think about that?” he said, according to the panel’s 2008 public admonishment.

Now, the group Campaign for Accountability has filed a complaint with the panel, citing that episode while seeking an investigation into Blackburn after CNN reported that she jumped out of a car and showed her congressional pin to a US Capitol Police officer, who had pulled over her driver on her way to the airport late last month.

The officer then let her car go and didn’t record the incident. Blackburn’s office told CNN last month that the officer asked for her identification.

GOP senator flashes congressional pin after car was pulled over by Capitol Police, sources say

“Like Senator Craig showing his business card to a law enforcement officer, Senator Blackburn showed her congressional pin, apparently with the expectation that by doing so she would receive favorable treatment and be permitted to get underway without further delay,” the complaint said. “Such conduct violates Senate rules prohibiting members from using their position and status to receive special or favorable treatment.”

A Blackburn spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on the complaint.

It’s uncertain whether the Senate panel will take up the request or simply ignore it. The committee operates in total secrecy until it takes a formal action.

After last month’s incident, a Blackburn aide texted his friends to say that the senator “hopped out, flashed her pin, hopped back in the car [and] said ‘drive!'”

“Officer didn’t say a word, just shook his head,” the aide said in a text message, which was reviewed CNN.

A Blackburn spokesperson confirmed the incident last month to CNN, noting that it was the senator’s driver who was pulled over on their way to the airport leaving the Capitol. “The police officer asked the senator for identification, which she provided, and then proceeded to the airport.”

Michelle Kuppersmith, executive director of the group filing the complaint, says the senator’s actions should be investigated.

“This is a cut-and-dried example of an elected official abusing her position to avoid consequences other citizens face,” Kuppersmith said.

Craig’s actions, however, were much more serious allegations and came at a much steeper price, ultimately leading to his decision to retire from the Senate and him pleading guilty to a misdemeanor for disorderly conduct — all the result of a sting by an officer in a bathroom stall who had accused the senator of soliciting sex. Craig denied he was soliciting sex and long maintained his actions had been misconstrued by the officer. He later failed in an attempt to reverse his guilty plea.

In a 2008 letter to the then-senator, the committee chastised Craig and said that he should not have flashed his business card.

“Under the circumstances present at that time, you knew or should have known that a reasonable person in the position of the arresting officer could view your action and statement as an improper attempt by you to use your position and status as a United States Senator to receive special and favorable treatment,” the committee said.



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Mitch McConnell-aligned super PAC backs Lisa Murkowski, setting up clash with pro-Trump candidate


Trump plans to campaign against Murkowski after her vote to convict him in his second impeachment trial. But Murkowski, a Republican moderate on issues like abortion, has beat back candidates from the right before, and now has the backing of the group that spent over $476 million last election cycle — an astounding sum for Senate races.

“Alaska needs the kind of experienced representation that Lisa Murkowski provides in the United States Senate,” said SLF President Steven Law. “Whether fighting for Alaskan interests like expanding energy production and protecting fisheries, or advancing conservative priorities by confirming judges and cutting taxes, her strong leadership is vitally important to Alaska’s future.”

The Alaska race is emerging as the first flashpoint between McConnell and Trump over the future of the Senate and the Republican Party. Trump has already endorsed a handful of incumbent senators, including Marco Rubio of Florida and Jerry Moran of Kansas.

But after Murkowski voted to convict Trump in the second impeachment trial for inciting the insurrection at the Capitol, the former president pledged to campaign against her.

“She represents her state badly and her country even worse,” Trump said in March. “I do not know where other people will be next year, but I know where I will be — in Alaska campaigning against a disloyal and very bad senator.”

McConnell quietly courts Senate primary candidates 'who can win' regardless of Trump ties

Tshibaka, a former Alaska Department of Administration commissioner, launched her Senate campaign last month, pitching her campaign as an outsider taking on a powerful, longtime insider.

“It’s just like D.C. insiders to ignore the voices of Alaska voters to protect one of their own,” said Mary Ann Pruitt, an adviser to the Tshibaka campaign, in response to the SLF’s endorsement announcement.

Murkowski and her family have long served the state. Her father, former Gov. Frank Murkowski, appointed her to his old Senate seat in 2002, and she won the office in 2004 and in 2010, when she lost the GOP primary to Tea Party candidate Joe Miller. She then waged a rarely successful write-in campaign, winning reelection in 2016 by 15 points.

Murkowski has been one of the rare swing votes in the Senate GOP conference. She voted for the Trump administration’s 2017 tax overhaul bill, which included a provision to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling in her home state. But she opposed the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh following his sexual assault allegations, which he vigorously denied. The senator did not vote for Trump in 2020 and told The Hill she wrote in someone else who lost.

Those votes have earned her praise from the middle. And in 2022, Murkowski may benefit from a new system where candidates run together in a nonpartisan primary, and the top four finishers advance to the general election, in which voters rank their preferences.

But those votes have also earned her scorn from some on the right. The Alaska Republican Party censured her in a resolution after her impeachment vote, and said it would “recruit” a Republican challenger. The Alaska GOP later tweeted out a line from a Fox News story announcing Tshibaka’s bid.

Tshibaka will try to exploit a Trump-inspired backlash against the senator, hiring National Public Affairs, a political consulting firm run by Trump’s top 2020 strategists, and Line Drive Public Affairs’ Tim Murtaugh, Trump’s former campaign communications director. Alaska operative Mary Ann Pruitt, who worked on the 2016 Murkowski campaign, is also advising Tshibaka’s bid.

In her video, Tshibaka called Murkowski “so out of touch” for voting “to remove Donald Trump from office, even after he was already gone.” Trump won Alaska by 10 points in 2020.

So far, Tshibaka’s candidacy presents the sharpest distinction between the McConnell and Trump orbits. Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks has also received Trump’s endorsement for Senate after leading the charge to challenge the 2020 election, which could cause some heartburn for the business-wing of the GOP, but neither SLF nor McConnell has backed any candidate in the state.

Before joining Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration, Tshibaka worked in the offices of the inspector general for the US Postal Service, Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice. Tshibaka acknowledged she worked in Washington, DC but “fought to expose waste and fraud in government,” seeking to draw a contrast with Murkowski’s extensive experience in the Capitol.

Murkowski filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission on March 9 but has not officially announced her reelection bid and been somewhat coy about her 2022 intentions.

But Kevin Sweeney, a political consultant for the Murkowski campaign, welcomed the endorsement from SLF, saying they “expect to build a broad coalition of support when we officially kick off the campaign.”

The senator has retained the support of other top Republicans besides Trump, including McConnell, who has said he will “absolutely” support Murkowski. Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan has also said he’d support Murkowski too, “if” she runs again.

“Many politicians put themselves first, but Lisa Murkowski always puts Alaska first,” said Law on Friday.

This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.



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