Trump-Pence Proxy Fight in Georgia Raises Questions About GOP’s Future 

On its face, Tuesday's primary election for the Republican party’s gubernatorial nominee in the U.S. state of Georgia was nothing remarkable. Brian Kemp, the sitting governor, faced off against former U.S. Senator David Perdue and comfortably won his party's nod to pursue another term in office by 73% to 22%.    Normally, two veteran politicians slugging it out over the chance to win a state's highest office wouldn't raise too many eyebrows. But some wonder whether the Georgia race presages a larger fight in the GOP that will play out in both the 2022 midterms and the 2024 general elections.  That's because the two highest-profile supporters of Kemp and Perdue were, respectively, former Vice President Mike Pence and former President Donald Trump.  Trump's influence varies  A clear takeaway from Tuesday night is that the Trump endorsement doesn't carry the weight it used to and that the former president's inner circle appeared to believe it did just days ago.   As Pence prepared to campaign for Kemp in Georgia on Monday, a spokesman for Trump said in a statement, "Mike Pence was set to lose a governor's race in 2016 before he was plucked up and his political career was salvaged. Now, desperate to chase his lost relevance, Pence is parachuting into races, hoping someone is paying attention. The reality is, President Trump is already 82-3 with his endorsements, and there's nothing stopping him from saving America in 2022 and beyond."  That, however, was not how things played out Tuesday. And according to Charlie Cook, founder of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, Perdue's weakness in Georgia highlights the limits of Trump's power over individual races.  "In a Republican primary, when the voters don't know much about either candidate, the Trump endorsement is enormous," Cook told VOA.   But in a high visibility race like Georgia's, where a sitting governor ran against a challenger who had served as one of the state's U.S. senators, Trump's influence is clearly less potent, Cook said.  "If it's a blank slate, his endorsement means a lot in a Republican primary," he said. "But if they already knew a lot about both people, it doesn't mean nearly as much."  Deeper conflict in GOP  There are multiple reasons Pence and Trump, who spent four years together in the White House, find themselves on different sides of the Georgia gubernatorial race.  One is that Pence is clearly testing the waters for a run, possibly against Trump, in the GOP presidential primary in 2024.   But the most significant factor is the ongoing battle within the Republican Party for control of the narrative surrounding the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, when Trump supporters — some threatening to "hang" Pence — disrupted the certification of Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election.  'Proxy conflict'  "This is a proxy conflict between the former president and the former vice president," William A. Galston, a senior fellow in Brookings' Governance Studies program, told VOA as ballots were being cast on Tuesday.  "And it is a conflict not just over the candidates that they've backed but also about the two very different stories about the end of the Trump administration, and January 6, that each of them represents."  Galston said that he had begun to notice "a steady undertone" of resistance to the former president's fixation on his 2020 loss, even among Republicans who supported Trump during his presidency.   "They don't think it's helpful to the party or the country to continue this endless retrospective on the 2020 presidential election, and Mr. Trump keeps it up," Galston said. "He may well be opening the door for candidates who strike Republicans — including staunch Republicans, including Trump Republicans — as more forward-looking."  A likely Trump challenger  That Pence would challenge his former running mate was not always clear.  Trump, both on the day of the Capitol riot and after, criticized Pence for his refusal to reject the electoral votes submitted by a number of states after it had become clear that Joe Biden had won the 2020 presidential election. Trump and a number of his advisers had come up with a plan to throw the election to the House of Representatives, where Republican lawmakers could have voted to declare Trump the president.  The plan was illegal, and Pence refused to go along with it, inciting the fury of both Trump and the crowd that stormed the Capitol.  In the year that followed the January 6 assault, Pence slowly and cautiously distanced himself from his former running mate.  Pence steps away  After more than a year of remaining mostly quiet, Pence delivered a speech to the conservative Federalist Society in February in which he publicly broke from the former president, saying that Trump's claims about Pence's ability to reject electoral votes were incorrect.  "President Trump is wrong," Pence said. "I had no right to overturn the election."  He added, "The presidency belongs to the American people, and the American people alone. And frankly there is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president."  That same day, Trump issued a statement repeating his false claim that the 2020 election results had been marred by fraud. "I was right and everyone knows it," he said. "If there is fraud or large-scale irregularities, it would have been appropriate to send those votes back to the legislatures to figure it out."  Trump targets Kemp  The Georgia gubernatorial primary became a flashpoint between Pence and Trump because Kemp had been one of the Republican elected officials who had refused to go along with the former president's effort to overturn the election.   Georgia, which Trump lost in 2020 by just under 12,000 votes, was one of the states where Trump and his advisers had hoped to reverse the election results. Kemp, however, publicly refused their request that he decertify the election results and appoint electors who would vote for Trump.  Trump has been highly critical of Kemp ever since, and when Perdue announced his campaign in December 2021, Trump endorsed him immediately.  Perdue's loss on Tuesday suggests that the former president's consistent focus on the results of the 2020 election may not continue to pay political dividends.

‘Precious Individuals’ Taken in Texas School Shooting 

One student was an avid runner, so fast she swept the races on field day. Another was learning football plays from his grandfather. One girl sensed something was wrong and wanted to skip school. On Wednesday, stories began to emerge about the lives of the 19 children — "precious individuals" according to the school district superintendent — and their two teachers who were gunned down behind a barricaded door at Robb Elementary School in the southwestern Texas town of Uvalde. Vincent Salazar said his 10-year-old daughter, Layla, loved to swim and dance to TikTok videos. She was fast — she won six races at the school's field day — and Salazar proudly posted a photo of Layla showing off two of her ribbons on Facebook. Each morning, as he drove her to school in his pickup, Salazar would play "Sweet Child O' Mine," by Guns N' Roses, and they'd sing along, he said. "She was just a whole lot of fun," he said. 'All gone now' Manny Renfro lost his 8-year-old grandson, Uziyah Garcia, in the shooting. "The sweetest little boy that I've ever known," Renfro said. "I'm not just saying that because he was my grandkid." Renfro said Uziyah last visited him in San Angelo during spring break. "We started throwing the football together, and I was teaching him pass patterns. Such a fast little boy, and he could catch a ball so good," Renfro said. "There were certain plays that I would call that he would remember, and he would do it exactly like we practiced." Javier Cazares said he found out Tuesday afternoon that his 9-year-old daughter Jacklyn Cazares was killed in her classroom. She was with a group of five girls, including her second cousin, Annabelle Rodriguez, who formed a tight group of friends. "They are all gone now," Cazares said. The extended families of the slain cousins gathered Wednesday to mourn and comfort each other over barbecue. Cazares described his daughter as a "firecracker" who "had a voice. She didn't like bullies. She didn't like kids being picked on." "All in all, full of love. She had a big heart," he said. Veronica Luevanos, whose 10-year-old daughter, Jailah Nicole Silguero, was among the victims, tearfully told Univision that her daughter did not want to go to school Tuesday and seemed to sense something bad was going to happen. Jailah's cousin also died in the shooting. All of the dead were in the same fourth-grade classroom, where the shooter barricaded himself Tuesday and opened fire on the children and their teachers, Texas Governor Greg Abbott told a news conference Wednesday. He said the gunman used an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle in the attack and posted on Facebook shortly before the shooting: "I'm going to shoot an elementary school." 'They were loved' Schools Superintendent Hal Harrell fought back tears as he spoke of the children and their teachers. "You can just tell by their angelic smiles that they were loved," Harrell said of the children. "That they loved coming to school, that they were just precious individuals." The two teachers "poured their heart and soul" into their work, Harrell said. Teacher Eva Mireles, 44, was remembered as a loving mother and wife. "She was adventurous. ... She is definitely going to be very missed," said 34-year-old relative Amber Ybarra, of San Antonio. In a post on the school's website at the start of the school year, Mireles introduced herself to her new students. "Welcome to the 4th grade! We have a wonderful year ahead of us!" she wrote, noting she had been teaching 17 years, loved running and hiking, and had a "supportive, fun, and loving family." She mentioned that her husband was a school district police officer, and they had a grown daughter and three "furry friends." The other slain teacher, Irma Garcia, wrote about her four children, including one who was in the Marines, in a letter introducing herself to the class. Garcia's 21-year-old nephew, John Martinez, told the Detroit Free Press the family was struggling to grasp that while Garcia's son trained for combat, it was his mother who was shot to death. Relatives of 10-year-old Eliahna Garcia recalled her love of family. "She was very happy and very outgoing," said Eliahna's aunt, Siria Arizmendi, a fifth-grade teacher at Flores Elementary School in the same district. "She loved to dance and play sports. She was big into family, enjoyed being with the family." Lisa Garza, 54, of Arlington, Texas, mourned the death of her 10-year-old cousin, Xavier Javier Lopez, who had been eagerly awaiting a summer of swimming. "He was just a loving ... little boy, just enjoying life, not knowing that this tragedy was going to happen," she said. "He was very bubbly, loved to dance with his brothers, his mom. This has just taken a toll on all of us." She lamented what she described as lax gun laws. "We should have more restrictions, especially if these kids are not in their right state of mind and all they want to do is just hurt people, especially innocent children going to the schools," Garza said. Arizmendi also spoke angrily, through tears, about how the shooter managed to get a gun. "It's just difficult to understand or to put into words," she said. "I just don't know how people can sell that type of a gun to a kid 18 years old. What is he going to use it for but for that purpose?" As Ybarra prepared to give blood for the wounded, she wondered how no one noticed trouble with the shooter in time to stop him. "To me, it's more about raising mental health awareness," said Ybarra, a wellness coach who attended Robb Elementary herself. "Someone could possibly have seen a dramatic change before something like this happened." Even for the survivors, there was grief. Lorena Auguste was substitute teaching at Uvalde High School when she heard about the shooting. She began frantically texting her niece, a fourth-grader at Robb Elementary, until Auguste heard from her sister that the child was OK. Auguste said her niece asked her that night, "Tia, why did they do this to us? We're good kids. We didn't do anything wrong." Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Home, which is located across the street from Robb Elementary School, said in a Facebook post that it would be assisting families of the shooting victims with no cost for funerals. GoFundMe pages were set up for many of the victims, including one on behalf of all victims that has raised more than $1.5 million.

Biden Vows Gun Law Action After Texas School Shooting Kills 19

A visibly angry and upset U.S. President Joe Biden vowed Tuesday to push legislators to take action to reform gun laws, after a school shooting in the gun-friendly state of Texas saw the deaths of at least 19 young children. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Washington.

Are Americans Purposely Moving Next to People Who Share Their Politics?

Democrats and Republicans are less likely to live near each other than they were a generation ago. This political segregation is a phenomenon journalist Bill Bishop wrote about in his book “The Big Sort,” which suggested that Americans are increasingly moving to places where neighbors share their political views. But are they doing that on purpose? “It may well be that some of them are doing that, but I think from the data, that's not entirely what they're doing. … It looks like when people are moving, they're mostly looking for communities that have certain features, like say, art walks or gun stores, big box stores or small indie coffee shops, that kind of thing,” says JP Prims, a visiting lecturer in the department of psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “It could just be that they are finding places that have things that they like, and they tend to like things other liberals like, or they like things other conservatives like.” Prims co-authored a report on political segregation that found distinct differences that are not inherently political in the sorts of communities that appeal to liberals and conservatives. Liberals who participated in the survey identified political liberalism, ethnic diversity, public transportation and a vibrant arts scene as important characteristics of their ideal community. Meanwhile, conservatives value political conservatism, patriotism, many churches and rural areas when considering ideal places to live. “We've known for a while that liberals tend to prefer more urban places,” Prims says. “Conservatives want it to feel like a small town and be a bit more rural.” Political sorting myth? Samuel Abrams, a professor of politics and social sciences at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, does not buy into the concept of political self-sorting. He points to the large numbers of people from liberal states like California, New York, Connecticut and New Jersey who are moving to more conservative states like Florida and Texas. “They're going because taxes are lower, restrictions are lower. For half-a-million dollars, instead of a one-bedroom closet like we have here in New York, you can have a sprawling house most likely with a pool, basketball court and a fire pit,” Abrams says. Significant numbers of Californians are moving to Texas at a time when the Lone Star state is making political moves that outrage liberals. “Look at the restrictive abortion laws that the state has imposed. ... Let's look at their recent work on abortion or gun control or even redistricting,” Abrams says. “Those positions that the state has taken run directly against all these progressive liberals that are suddenly moving there at the same time. So, I don't think the geography is what's really driving a lot of this.” A report from Texas A&M University found that the largest share of people moving to Texas came from California and that most settled in liberal-leaning Texas counties. COVID effect Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt says it’s likely that the COVID-19 pandemic is driving increased political sorting. “We've heard a lot about that during COVID. In New York and California, a lot of people who are center-right are leaving because they just can't stand the social policies and the COVID policies,” says Haidt, a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business. “So, there certainly is a movement from New York and California to Texas and Florida driven not just by the weather, but by the politics, by wanting to be in a place that’s not so woke.” The real estate brokerage firm Redfin predicts more people will move to places that align with their political beliefs in 2022. A survey conducted by the firm shows that a substantial share of homebuyers won’t move to a place where the laws conflict with their political beliefs. Haidt expects to see more political sorting now that more Americans than ever before have the option to work virtually. “Lots of people are questioning what they did before. Lots of people now have the freedom to work remotely, to live wherever they want. So, my prediction would be that (journalist) Bill Bishop's thesis about 'The Big Sort’ is even more true in the wake of COVID,” Haidt says. “Given how much things have intensified in the last few years, even before COVID, under (former president Donald) Trump, and now, with COVID, affecting our life far more than political arguments used to affect them, I would predict that political sorting has increased.” Bishop pointed out in his book that while America is more diverse than ever, the places many Americans live are actually becoming less diverse, as people move to communities made up of people who think and vote like they do. That segregation could lead to increased rancor between conservatives and liberals. “Because liberals don't see conservatives as much, and conservatives don't see liberals as much in person and aren't encountering them as often, both online and in person, that is certainly, I would say, contributing to political polarization, because we're seeing these people as less human. We understand how they think less, or hearing their arguments less,” Prims says. “We do know that putting people in communities where everybody thinks the same thing leads to these echo chambers where people do tend to become more extreme.”

Justice Thomas Says Abortion Opinion Leak Changed Supreme Court

Justice Clarence Thomas says the Supreme Court has been changed by the shocking leak of a draft opinion earlier this month. The opinion suggests the court is poised to overturn the right to an abortion recognized nearly 50 years ago in Roe v. Wade.  The conservative Thomas, who joined the court in 1991 and has long called for Roe v. Wade to be overturned, described the leak as an unthinkable breach of trust.  "When you lose that trust, especially in the institution that I'm in, it changes the institution fundamentally. You begin to look over your shoulder. It's like kind of an infidelity that you can explain it, but you can't undo it," he said while speaking at a conference Friday evening in Dallas.  The court has said the draft does not represent the final position of any of the court's members, and Chief Justice John Roberts has ordered an investigation into the leak.  Thomas, a nominee of President George H.W. Bush, said it was beyond "anyone's imagination" before the May 2 leak of the opinion to Politico that even a line of a draft opinion would be released in advance, much less an entire draft that runs nearly 100 pages. Politico has also reported that in addition to Thomas, conservative justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett had voted with the draft opinion's author, Samuel Alito, to overrule Roe v. Wade and a 1992 decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that affirmed Roe's finding of a constitutional right to abortion.  Thomas said that previously, "if someone said that one line of one opinion" would be leaked, the response would have been: "Oh, that's impossible. No one would ever do that."  "Now that trust or that belief is gone forever," Thomas said at the Old Parkland Conference, which describes itself as a conference "to discuss alternative proven approaches to tackling the challenges facing Black Americans today."  Thomas also said at one point: "I do think that what happened at the court is tremendously bad...I wonder how long we're going to have these institutions at the rate we're undermining them."  Thomas also touched in passing on the protests by liberals at conservative justices' homes in Maryland and Virginia that followed the draft opinion's release. Thomas argued that conservatives have never acted that way.  "You would never visit Supreme Court justices' houses when things didn't go our way. We didn't throw temper tantrums. I think it is ... incumbent on us to always act appropriately and not to repay tit for tat," he said.  Protests at the Supreme Court and around the nation were planned for Saturday.  Neither Thomas nor any of the attendees at the Dallas session made mention of the Jan. 6 insurrection or the actions of Thomas' wife, Virginia, in fighting to have the results of the 2020 presidential election overturned.  Clarence Thomas was speaking before an audience as part of a conversation with John Yoo, who is now a Berkeley Law professor but worked for Thomas for a year in the early 1990s as a law clerk.  Each justice generally has four law clerks every year and the current group of law clerks has been a focus of speculation as a possible source of the draft opinion's leak. They are one of a few groups along with the justices and some administrative staff that have access to draft opinions.  Thomas also answered a few questions from the audience, including one from a man who asked about the friendships between liberal and conservative justices on the court, such as a well-known friendship between the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. "How can we foster that same type of relationship within Congress and within the general population?" the man asked.  "Well, I'm just worried about keeping it at the court now," Thomas responded. He went on to speak in glowing terms about former colleagues. "This is not the court of that era," he said.  Despite his comments, Thomas seemed in good spirits — laughing heartily at times. Yoo, who is known for writing the so-called "torture memos" that the George W. Bush administration used to justify using "enhanced interrogation" techniques after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, said at one point that he had taken pictures of notes Thomas had taken during the conference.  "You're going to leak them?" Thomas asked, laughing.  Yoo responded: "Well, I know where to go...Politico will publish anything I give them now." 

When Will the COVID Pandemic End?

It’s a question many have been...
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