By John Whitesides JACKSON, Miss. (Reuters) - A white Republican senator's casual reference to a "public hanging" has invigorated a special election runoff in Mississippi, fueling Democratic hopes of an upset in a conservative state with an ugly history of racist violence. The U.S. Senate race between appointed Republican incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy, a black former congressman and U.S. agriculture secretary, will test the power of the black vote and the viability of Democrats in a region where Republicans have dominated for decades. The Nov. 27 runoff, which caps a congressional election cycle drawn out by recounts and too-close-to-call races, will not affect the balance of power in Congress. Republicans will hold a Senate majority even if Hyde-Smith loses and Democrats will control the House of Representatives. Espy, 64, is a heavy underdog in the Deep South state, which has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1982. But his campaign got a jolt of adrenaline when a video surfaced a week ago showing Hyde-Smith, 59, praising a supporter by saying: "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row." The comment set off a furor in Mississippi, a state scarred by a history of racism and violence against blacks, including lynching. According to the NAACP civil rights group, Mississippi had 581 lynchings between 1882 and 1968, more than any other state. Advocacy groups conducting a voter turnout drive aimed primarily at African-Americans, who make up 38 percent of the state's residents, said their efforts had gained new urgency. "If people recognize the importance of this moment, there is an opportunity for Secretary Espy to win this race," said Chokwe Antar Lumumba, the black Democratic mayor of Jackson, the state's largest city. "If we can show progress in a state with such historic suffering, then what does it say about the future?" Hyde-Smith, a former state legislator appointed in April to replace retiring Senator Thad Cochran, released a statement calling the Nov. 2 comment "an exaggerated expression of regard" for a friend. She refused to apologize and has not addressed the remarks further. Retail giant Walmart, medical device maker Boston Scientific and railroad Union Pacific made public requests this week for Hyde-Smith to return their donations because of the remarks. Her campaign declined to comment. Walmart said on Twitter on Tuesday that Hyde-Smith's comments "clearly do not reflect the values of our company and associates." Espy would be the first black senator from Mississippi since shortly after the Civil War. He told reporters Hyde-Smith's "disappointing, hurtful" remarks perpetuated stereotypes Mississippi was striving to overcome. "There was already a high level of engagement but her comments took everything up to a whole new level," said Cassandra Welchlin, co-director of the Mississippi Black Women's Roundtable, one of at least two dozen advocacy groups involved in turnout efforts. Welchlin's group is partnering with childcare centers, churches and sororities to target infrequent black women voters. Other groups are focusing on registered black voters who did not participate in the Nov. 6 election, using phone banks, texting parties and ride-shares to get them out. THE ALABAMA MODEL Mississippi Democrats hope to recreate the coalition that propelled Democrat Doug Jones to a Senate victory in neighboring Alabama last year by energizing black voters, particularly women, and appealing to white swing voters. Espy has used the Jones race as a template, focusing on issues like rural healthcare, equal pay and education. A political moderate, he portrays himself as a bridge-builder in a state where Republican President Donald Trump is popular. At a weekend breakfast in Jackson, Espy told black women leaders that Jones was elected because women turned out to support him. "What that did for Doug Jones in Alabama, you have to do for me in Mississippi," he said. The runoff to serve the last two years of Cochran's term was needed because no candidate gained more than 50 percent of the vote in a Nov. 6 special election. Hyde-Smith and Espy, who nearly deadlocked at about 41 percent, will meet in a debate on Tuesday night. Both the Republican and Democratic national parties have sent help to Mississippi for the runoff. Trump will hold two get-out-the-vote rallies in the state next week, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee said it was spending at least $800,000 on ads. That will be augmented by $1 million from the Senate Leadership Fund, an outside group aligned with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. National Democratic committees are sending staff to help get out the vote, and the Democratic-aligned Senate Majority PAC has started a $500,000 ad buy. Senators Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, who are both African-American and potential 2020 presidential contenders, campaigned with Espy. "This is a race that has national importance," Harris said at the Jackson breakfast, saying the outcome would "make a point about who we are as a country, symbolized by the state of Mississippi." 'CONSERVATIVE STATE' Hyde-Smith has hammered Espy as too liberal for Mississippi. She touts her endorsement from Trump, who won Mississippi by 18 percentage points in 2016, and campaigns in a bus with a blown-up photo of her and Trump stretched across the side. "This race is a conservative versus a liberal and Mississippi is a conservative state," said Melissa Scallan, a spokeswoman for Hyde-Smith. She declined to comment on the hanging remarks. Hyde-Smith became embroiled in another controversy last week when a video surfaced in which she seemed to endorse the voter suppression of liberal students as "a great idea." In a statement, Hyde-Smith's campaign said she was joking. The wild card in the runoff will be how many supporters of Republican Chris McDaniel, a hard-line conservative who captured 16.5 percent of the vote on Nov. 6, stay home or back Espy instead of Hyde-Smith. McDaniel had criticized Hyde-Smith, a former Democrat who switched parties in 2010, as insufficiently conservative but endorsed her. Hal Marx, a McDaniel supporter and mayor of the small town of Petal, said he was not enthusiastic about Hyde-Smith but would vote for her. "She isn't the best choice possible but of the two that are left we need a Republican in the seat," Marx said. (Reporting by John Whitesides; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Peter Cooney and Bill Trott)
- The Independent
First family orders sesame bagels with cream cheese
- Associated Press
A federal judge on Sunday blocked the release of a Tennessee man who authorities say carried flexible plastic handcuffs during the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month. U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell for the District of Columbia set aside an order by a judge in Tennessee concerning the release of Eric Munchel of Nashville. After testimony at a detention hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Frensley for the Middle District of Tennessee determined Friday that Munchel wasn’t a flight risk and didn’t pose harm to the public.
California Governor Gavin Newsom's office has decided to lift the orders as ICU availability in the regions that remained under the stay-at-home order, including the Bay area and Southern California are projected to rise above the 15% threshold that triggered the lockdown measures, according https://bit.ly/3sSPOfp to San Francisco Chronicle. California has reported over 3.1 million cases and 36,745 deaths so far, a Reuters tally showed. Strict stay-at-home orders were renewed for much of California in December to avert a crisis in hospitals.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), incoming chair of the Senate Budget Committee who caucuses with the Democrats, told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that Democrats plan to push a coronavirus relief package through the chamber with a simple majority vote. Why it matters: "Budget reconciliation" would allow Democrats to forgo the Senate's 60-vote requirement and could potentially speed-up the next relief package for millions of unemployed Americans. Democrats hold the the 50-50 split in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote.Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.What he's saying: "What we cannot do is wait weeks and weeks and months to go forward. We have got to act now," Sanders said. * "We're going to use reconciliation — that's 50 votes in the Senate, plus the vice president — to pass legislation desperately needed by working families in this country right now." * When asked if he wants a relief bill passed before former President Trump's impeachment trial begins the week of Feb. 8, he said: "We've got to do everything. This is not — you don't have the time to sit around, weeks on impeachment and not get vaccines into the arms of people."Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.
- The Telegraph
The acrimonious split within Republican ranks widened over the weekend as Donald Trump made his foray back into politics, backing the re-election of a hard-line supporter as chair of the party in Arizona. His wholehearted support for Kelli Ward was seen by allies as the former president firing a warning shot across the bows of any Republican senators considering backing his impeachment. Underlining Mr Trump’s grip on the Republican grassroots, the Arizona party also voted to censure John McCain’s widow, Cindy, former senator Jeff Flake and governor Doug Ducey, who refused to back the former president’s claims of election fraud. Mr Trump’s intervention came amid reports that he is considering setting up a “Patriot Party” which would spearhead primary challenges to his opponents in the 2022 mid-term elections. The former president has already amassed a massive war chest with his Save America political action committee declaring last month that it had raked in $207.5 million in donations.
- NBC News
The Biden administration aims for 100 million vaccinations within his first 100 days as president.
- Associated Press
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Sunday he has tested positive for COVID-19 and that the symptoms are mild. Mexico's president, who has been criticized for his handling of his country's pandemic and for not setting an example of prevention in public, said on his official Twitter account that he is under medical treatment. José Luis Alomía Zegarra, Mexico’s director of epidemiology, said López Obrador had a “light” case of COVID-19 and was “isolating at home.”
U.S. Army Forces Command has reinstated the top enlisted leader at Fort Hood, Texas after an investigation cleared him of allegations that he used unprofessional language with subordinates last year.
A prominent U.S. Senate Republican warned on Saturday that former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial could lead to the prosecution of former Democratic presidents if Republicans retake the chamber in two years. Trump this month became the first U.S. president to be impeached twice after the Democratic-controlled House, with the support of 10 Republicans, voted to charge him with incitement of insurrection for a fiery Jan. 6 speech to his followers before they launched a deadly assault on the Capitol.
- Associated Press
President Joe Biden's first calls to foreign leaders went to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at a strained moment for the U.S. relationship with its North American neighbors. Mexico's president said Saturday that Biden told him the U.S. would send $4 billion to help development in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — nations whose hardships have spawned tides of migration through Mexico toward the United States.
- The Telegraph
Nicola Sturgeon has refused to confirm that she would quit as First Minister if it is found that she deliberately lied to Holyrood over the Alex Salmond affair, as she accused her predecessor of spreading “false conspiracy theories” about her. The First Minister insisted she had not misled the Scottish Parliament about her handling of sexual harassment complaints against Mr Salmond, as two inquiries examining her conduct, which her opponents believe could see her forced from office, gather pace. In a submission to an investigation into whether Ms Sturgeon broke the ministerial code, Mr Salmond said statements which Ms Sturgeon made to Holyrood about when she first became aware of complaints against him were “simply untrue”.
- NBC News
A motive wasn't immediately known. Mayor Joe Hogsett said the shooting had brought "terror to our community."
Iran may cooperate with the United States on oil and security in the Gulf, but not on Israel, the Iranian foreign minister said in remarks published on Saturday. Ties between Tehran and Washington worsened under the administration of former President Donald Trump, who in 2018 withdrew from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled its economy.
Several were hurt in the incident several days ago at the Nathu La pass in Sikkim, Indian media say.
- The Week
President Biden reeled in a record-breaking $145 million in so-called dark money from anonymous donors during his presidential campaign, topping the $113 million that went to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) before his failed presidential bid in 2012, Bloomberg reports.It's not surprising that Biden set the mark given that the $1.5 billion he hauled in overall was the most ever for a challenger to an incumbent president, but it's notable in large part because Democrats have been at the forefront of a movement to ban dark money in politics since it means that supporters can back a candidate without scrutiny. Plus, Bloomberg notes, anonymous donors "will have the same access to decision makers as those whose names were disclosed, but without public awareness of who they are or what influence they might wield." As Meredith McGehee, the executive director of campaign finance reform advocacy group Issue One, told Bloomberg, "the whole point of dark money is to avoid public disclosure while getting private credit."Still, it seems the Democratic Party was willing to embrace the strategy in the hopes of defeating former President Donald Trump, who only brought in $28.4 million from anonymous donors. Read more at Bloomberg.More stories from theweek.com 5 scathingly funny cartoons about Biden's COVID-19 push 'No way' McConnell has had a post-Trump 'epiphany,' political scientist says In candid interview, Birx says she knew working with Trump White House would be the end of her federal career
- Associated Press
A 34-year-old grizzly bear captured in southwestern Wyoming has been confirmed as the oldest on record in the Yellowstone region, Wyoming wildlife officials said. Grizzly bear 168 was captured last summer after it preyed on calves in the Upper Green River Basin area. Biologists learned of the bear’s longevity after euthanizing the bruin, which had preyed on cattle and then finally, calves.
- The Telegraph
Britain faces a three-month lockdown "halfway house" after Easter, with a full reopening delayed until all over-50s have had their second dose of the vaccine, The Telegraph understands. Ministers are considering proposals to begin reopening swathes of the economy in April under similar restrictions to those in place over the summer, with “rule of six” and social distancing measures in force in pubs and restaurants. A return to full normality will be delayed for at least 12 to 14 weeks to allow for all over-50s to have their second dose of the vaccine, according to a source familiar with the discussions. Ministers are keen to reopen hospitality venues in some capacity before the G7 summit in the second week of June, when the UK will host world leaders in Carbis Bay, Cornwall. National measures will be eased in advance of the summit, allowing pubs, restaurants and tourism to begin to trade again. Boris Johnson has previously suggested that England will return to the geographic tier system after the lockdown ends, but sources suggested the tiers may apply to the whole country rather than to specific areas. “The appetite for regional tiers will only come if you have large swathes of the country that are significantly lower in case numbers and new variant case numbers and hospitalisations,” a source said.
- Yahoo News Video
Ailing Pope Francis, who this week is making limited public appearances due to persistent pain, has drawn attention to the struggles of homeless people in winter, including a Nigerian man who froze to death near the Vatican.
China has found harmless traces of the novel coronavirus in some COVID-19 inoculation sites potentially linked to vaccine liquid, its disease control centre said. Samples taken from tables, walls, doorknobs and hallways of the sites tested positive for the virus but were not infectious, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) said in a statement late on Sunday. The traces had identical genome sequences as the strain found in used vaccine vials but were different from the strains currently spreading, China CDC said.
- LA Times
Column: You thought McConnell was tough as majority leader? Wait until you see him as minority leader
Get ready for the same tough-as-nails obstructionist we saw when Obama was in office.