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By Jonathan Allen
If Andrew Gillum ends up as the next governor of Florida, his post-election gymnastics will have been worth it.
But for now, a narrow defeat — close enough to trigger a recount under Florida law — may be the worst possible outcome for a rising star in the Florida and national Democratic parties who had briefly found the political silver lining in a graceful exit after a close race.
On Election Night, Gillum conceded the contest to Republican Ron DeSantis. His decision was rendered with the alacrity and upbeat notes of a candidate who knew he’d be back on the ballot — and it stood in contrast to the bitter fight that Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who also trailed his Republican opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, started to mount immediately.
But on Saturday, with the vote gap having closed considerably, Gillum reversed himself.
“I am replacing my earlier concession with an unapologetic and uncompromised call to count every vote,” he said.
The conundrum for Gillum was both straightforward and a bit of a political straitjacket.
If he had stuck to the initial concession, he might have enhanced his standing with swing voters who don’t want a drawn-out process — at the cost of disappointing dedicated Democrats in Florida and around the country. By pushing the process forward, even reluctantly or with less vigor than Nelson, he may please his core constituency but signal to swing voters that he’s a sore loser — the exact opposite of the message sent by his concession.
Either decision carried risk.
Because Florida is once again the center of national political attention, these themes — Gillum as protector of the rights of voters in heavily minority parts of Florida, or partisan Democrat unwilling to accept the results of the election — figure to have implications whether he has designs on state or federal office down the road.
His camp says his actions on election night and since have been responsible and geared toward ensuring the sanctity of the 2016 election — not positioning himself for any other bid for office.
“I don’t think he’s so much thinking about his future whether it’s statewide, nationally or within the party. I think it’s a bright future,” said one Gillum adviser who spoke to NBC on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the topic on the record.
“While the race isn’t over yet, his top priority is making sure that the will of the people is heard, and that means making sure that every vote is counted, and I don’t think that is going to do anything to hurt him in the future,” the Gillum adviser said. “I think he’s being an adult here.”
But Gillum has tread much more lightly when it comes to litigation than Nelson, a 75-year-old three-term senator who seems unlikely to run for office again if he loses his seat — or, if he ultimately wins and wants to seek re-election, has six years to repair any damage.
Nelson and Gillum are playing something of an inside-outside game, with Gillum working the grassroots.
Gillum has let Nelson take the lead on litigation, but he’s remaining actively engaged with his political base. He held a rally at a black church in Ft. Lauderdale Sunday night and had another event planned in Palm Beach Monday. And it is Gillum’s supporters who have faced off against Trump backers outside the Broward County supervisor of elections’ office.
Barry Richard, an attorney for Gillum, told NBC’s Hallie Jackson Monday that Gillum is reluctant to engage in legal action if some Florida’s counties aren’t able to complete their vote counts by the 3 p.m. Thursday deadline but noted that the candidate is “reviewing his options” and that a lawsuit has always been “on the table.”
“As of this morning, we had a discussion in which he wants to receive advice as to what options he has,” Richard said on MSNBC. “What Mayor Gillum is concerned about at this point is, whether or not it ultimately would affect his race, that he feels an obligation to ensure votes are counted and not to sit back when we are learning that they are not being counted for a number of reasons.”
With Republican and Democratic operatives and lawyers being recruited to travel to Florida to observe vote-counting for the second time in two decades, it’s not entirely clear how the rest of the plot will play out for Gillum, Nelson, DeSantis and Scott.
But Gillum, faced with the toughest set of choices of the four — the two Republicans could and did declare victory while Nelson doesn’t have to worry about rubbing voters the wrong way — has cast his lot on the side of not surrendering unless he remains behind after all the votes have been counted, recounted and perhaps tallied a third time.
He has to hope that, if he is defeated, voters can accept the explanation that demanding a full count was about standing up for the rights of Floridians rather than for himself.
Federal judge blocks Mississippi abortion ban
By Charlie Gile and Dartunorro Clark
A federal judge on Friday issued a preliminary injunction blocking Mississippi’s fetal heartbeat anti-abortion law from going into effect, saying it infringes on women’s health care rights.
“Here we go again. Mississippi has passed another law banning abortions prior to viability,” Judge Carlton Reeves wrote in his order.
“By banning abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, SB 226 prevents a woman’s free choice, which is central to personal dignity and autonomy,” he continued.
The Mississippi ban prohibited abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, or around six weeks, which is before many women might know they are pregnant. Gov. Phil Bryant signed the bill into law in March.
The lawsuit was filed by the Jackson Women’s Health Organization against Thomas Dobbs, the state health officer of Mississippi.
Reeves ruled last year that Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban was unconstitutional, The Associated Press reported. Mississippi is appealing that ruling, and is likely to appeal this one, as well.
The judge’s ruling comes as dozens of conservative states across the country have passed or proposed bills that would place strict limitations on abortion. Anti-abortion advocates have said that they hope the bills, which have prompted swift legal challenges, will ultimately lead to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide.
Under the Mississippi law, doctors could have their medical licenses revoked if they perform the procedure after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Though the law does provide an exception if the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother, it does not provide an exception in cases of rape or incest.
The Republican governors of Kentucky, Ohio and Georgia have signed similar bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. On Friday, Missouri’s Republican Gov. Mike L. Parson signed legislation banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy with an exception for medical emergencies, but not for rape or incest.
Also on Friday, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit over Alabama’s near-total abortion ban that makes performing an abortion a felony with little to no exceptions. The law, signed by GOP Gov. Kay Ivey on May 15, is the most restrictive in the nation.
“The Alabama Legislature has been pushing abortion care further and further out of reach for years with medically unnecessary and politically-motivated restrictions, and this extreme abortion ban shows us just how far they’ll go to push their anti-abortion agenda,” Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, an ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project attorney, said in a press release.
Theresa May NOT DONE YET: Prime Minister could accept PEERAGE and sit in House of Lords
Trump heads to Japan with Sumo wrestling and golf on the agenda
By Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Under the threat of potentially devastating U.S. tariffs on autos, Japan is ready to roll out the newest phase of its charm offensive targeting President Donald Trump as it welcomes him on a state visit tailor-made to his whims and ego.
Offering high honors, golf and the chance to present a “Trump Cup” at a sumo wrestling championship, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, arguably Trump’s closest friend on the world stage, will continue a years-long campaign that so far appears to have spared Japan from far more debilitating U.S. actions.
The stakes are high. U.S. tariffs could cripple Japan’s auto industry, while North Korea remains a destabilizing threat in the region. But this trip, the first of two Trump is expected to make to Japan in the next six weeks, is more of social call meant to highlight the alliance between the countries and the friendship between their leaders.
“In the world of Donald Trump, terrible things can happen if you’re an ally, but no major blows have landed on Japan,” said Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Trump, who departed Washington for Tokyo on Friday, has the honor of being the first head of state invited to meet Emperor Naruhito since he assumed power May 1 after his father stepped down, the first abdication in about two centuries. Naruhito will welcome Trump to the Imperial Palace on Monday for a meeting and banquet in his honor.
“With all the countries of the world, I’m the guest of honor at the biggest event that they’ve had in over 200 years,” Trump said Thursday.
Abe will host Trump on Sunday for a round of golf and take the president to a sumo wrestling match, a sport Trump said he finds “fascinating.” Trump is eager to present the winner with a U.S.-made trophy.
It’s all part of a kindness campaign aimed at encouraging Trump to alleviate trade pressures, said Riley Walters, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, who said the personal relationship between Trump and Abe is probably the best of any two world leaders.
Abe made a strategic decision before Trump was elected to focus on his relationship with the U.S. The courtship began when Abe rushed to New York two weeks after the November 2016 election to meet the president-elect at Trump Tower. Last month, Abe and his wife, Akie, celebrated first lady Melania Trump’s birthday over a couples’ dinner at the White House.
Trump plans to return to Japan for a summit of leading rich and developing nations in Osaka in late June.
Behind the smiles and personal friendship, however, lurks deep uneasiness over Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on Japanese autos and auto parts on national security grounds, a move that would be far more devastating to the Japanese economy than earlier tariffs on steel and aluminum.
Trump recently agreed to a six-month delay, enough time to carry Abe past July’s Japanese parliamentary elections.
“On the surface, it’s all going to be a display of warmth, friendship, hospitality,” said Mireya Solis, a senior fellow at the Brookings Center for East Asia Policy Studies. But, she said, “there’s an undercurrent of awkwardness and concern about what the future might hold. … We’re coming to a decisive moment. This is, I think, the moment of truth.”
Also at issue is the lingering threat of North Korea, which has resumed missile testing and recently fired a series of short-range projectiles that U.S. officials, including Trump, have tried to downplay despite an agreement by North Korea to hold off on further testing.
“The moratorium was focused, very focused, on intercontinental missile systems, the ones that threaten the United States,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a recent television interview. That raised alarm bells in Japan, where short-range missiles pose a serious threat.
“That is not an acceptable American position for Japan,” said Green.
Japan, which relies on the U.S. for its defense, has also been largely cut out of negotiations with North Korea, even as Kim Jong Un has met with other leaders in the region, including China’s Xi Jinping. That leaves Abe to rely on the U.S. as an intermediary, said Sheila Smith, an expert on Japanese politics and foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“Abe has to rely on Trump to advocate,” she said. Abe recently offered to meet Kim without preconditions in an effort to restore diplomatic ties.
With Trump’s relations with the leaders of the U.K., Germany, Canada and other allies strained, Abe has worked more than any other leader to try to keep Trump engaged with international institutions, Green said, adding that it is critical for Japan’s survival.
And while leaders across Europe and elsewhere might take heat for cozying up to Trump, analysts say Japanese voters see Trump more as a curiosity and understand the pragmatic importance of good relations, which they say has paid off for Abe.
Indeed, while Trump has rejected Abe’s invitations to re-join a sweeping trans-Pacific trade deal and keeps the threat of tariffs in place, Trump walked away from his last meeting with Kim without a deal, which some had feared would include a declaration to end the Korean war and a vow to pull U.S. troops from the peninsula.
“I would argue that Abe has been so good at maintaining the relationship that maybe things could be worse,” Walters said.
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