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Blair Underwood, Desiree DaCosta to divorce after 27 years of marriage

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Conservatives Eye Kooky Gov’t Shutdown Gambit to Undo Joe Biden’s Vax Mandates

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With government funding set to run out in a matter of days, a group of hardline Republicans are once again ready to shut it all down—this time, in the name of blocking President Joe Biden’s efforts to mandate the COVID vaccine for federal workers.

But even if they manage to force a shutdown over the weekend, this maneuver won’t actually result in the change these conservatives want. And yet, that’s not really the point.

Conservatives are only able to shut down the government because Democratic leaders didn’t leave themselves enough time to pass a funding bill through the normal process, which takes at least a few days if senators insist on running out the clock on all debate time. That means the Senate is relying on “unanimous consent” to fast-track the stopgap spending bill. But a few conservative senators don’t look apt to go along with those agreements.

Without every senator on board, Democrats can’t pass a funding bill in time to avoid a shutdown, even if a number of Republicans want to keep the government open. That leaves conservatives in the position of having power for a few days—just enough time to make a point, raise some money, and prepare for the real battle.

Opposition to Biden’s policies to require federal workers to get vaccinated—and compel private companies to vaccinate their workers—is intense among conservatives. The party’s lawmakers have acted accordingly, and their action against the mandates has provided a convenient way to win over the base without explicitly advocating against vaccines.

Republicans have already fundraised off their anti-mandate opposition, including the Senate GOP’s official campaign arm, which began running ads on Facebook on Tuesday urging people to support the fight against Biden’s “authoritarian” vaccine mandates.

Leveraging the minority’s biggest threat—a shutdown—to advance the anti-mandate push will be catnip for these lawmakers’ constituencies, translating into donations and clout on social media that will have an impact long after the government reopens.

So it’s not shocking that conservatives are looking ahead, and treating this doomed fight as a warm-up to turn upcoming legislative fights into referendums on Biden’s vaccine mandate policy.

But there’s actually more to the shutdown than a cynical ploy for fundraising and clout.

According to a senior GOP aide familiar with the strategy, conservatives are eyeing the annual authorization of defense spending—which will have to pass both chambers with some GOP support—as the real avenue for their push. This shutdown, it seems, is more about gathering troops for the actual legislative battle.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) told The Daily Beast he “absolutely” thinks funding for enforcing vaccine mandates in the defense spending bill could be the next front, insisting Biden is “abusing his executive authority” to further his political aims.

The prospect of a prolonged conservative revolt over vaccine mandates may cause headaches for Democrats looking to speedily pass legislation. Ironically, however, it may end up causing more headaches for Republicans.

On Wednesday, there was disarray within the Senate GOP ranks: not even all conservatives, much less moderates, are on board with the mandate protest strategy. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), a staunch member of the MAGA wing, told POLITICO that it was “all talk” and said the courts were the appropriate venue to contest the policy.

Proponents of the maneuver, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), may take an off-ramp in the form of a symbolic vote on an amendment opposing mandates. But it’s unlikely their more raucous House colleagues will accept that outcome.

Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) tweeted on Wednesday that “anything less” than stopping the funding resolution “is unacceptable and unAmerican.”

Regardless of how far the push goes, there’s reason to believe it will be a political loser for the GOP. Their hardcore supporters might loathe vaccine mandates, but the voters the party must win over to recapture the House and Senate majorities in 2022 may not.

On Wednesday morning, House Republicans convened for a political strategy meeting focused on messaging for the 2022 midterms. According to a source familiar with the meeting, staff for the party’s House campaign arm said that while they had not recently polled the issue of vaccine mandates, that’s only because they had already found it was not a top priority for voters in key swing districts.

The House GOP strategists, the source recalled, said the mandate issue might galvanize voters in heavily Republican districts but that the economy and immigration provided the best messaging opportunities for the party in the districts they need to flip.

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“WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 18: Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) listens during a press conference on vaccine mandates for businesses with House Republicans on Capitol Hill on November 18, 2021 in Washington, DC. Rep. Fred Keller (R-PA) is introducing legislation to formally disapprove of and nullify President Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal employers. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)”

Anna Moneymaker

Democrats, meanwhile, were flabbergasted that of all the hills to die on, Republicans would threaten to shut down the entire government in order to halt a policy meant to protect more Americans against a deadly disease.

When asked about the GOP’s threats, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) burst into laughter.

“Make sure you write that laugh,” he told The Daily Beast. “Some of the things that come from the Republican Party are just beyond my understanding of what right and wrong is.”

Democratic operatives also said the anti-mandate push only reinforces their core 2022 argument that Republicans won’t be able to move the country past the pandemic.

The continued threat of the virus was on full display Wednesday. As Republicans pushed to shut the government down over efforts to protect the workforce, the first recorded case of the highly transmissible Omicron variant was recorded in California.

“This just reinforces that the GOP is anti-vax, while most Americans are anti-COVID,” said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist.

While the push for a shutdown has come centerstage in recent days, it’s a manifestation of a month’s-worth of angling from the right flank of congressional Republicans.

Eleven Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS), in the early days of November warned leadership in a letter that funds for vaccine mandates in government funding could cause a hubbub.

“Please be advised (many weeks in advance of the current spending period, which ends on December 3, 2021) that we will not support—and will use all means at our disposal to oppose—legislation that funds or in any way enables the enforcement of President Biden’s employer vaccine mandate,” the letter read.

And House GOP members slowly planted their spin on the issue on social media, with outspoken members like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) imploring Senate Republicans to “stand strong” in forcing a shutdown if there’s no guarantee government funds won’t support the vaccine mandates.

While the continuing resolution is still likely to pass the House—where only a simple majority is required—the Senate would need unanimous consent for the legislation to be passed by the end of Friday, when government funding runs out. Marshall told reporters on Wednesday that he’s pinning the fate of the funding on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

“As long as he makes sure we don’t fund the unconstitutional mandate, we’ll be okay with unanimous consent. So it’s totally on his back,” Marshall said.

Democrats, of course, are unmoved by an argument that the public will blame them for a weekend government shutdown over their unwillingness to defund vaccine mandates. And there’s clearly hesitation from GOP leaders to support the effort.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) hasn’t shown any inclination to back the conservative push, and he insisted publicly on Wednesday he did not expect a shutdown.

McConnell is perhaps the GOP’s most prominent vaccine promoter and has been more circumspect about vaccine mandates than his House counterpart, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

All 50 Senate Republicans, McConnell included, have signed on to a symbolic effort led by Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) to undo Biden’s mandates. But that doesn’t mean a critical mass would support shutting down the government to make it happen.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, warned on Wednesday, “I’ve seen shutdowns… I think it’s something that ought to be avoided, if you could.”

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I met Donald Trump at 14 and flew with Prince Andrew, claims Ghislaine Maxwell’s accuser

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Ghislaine Maxwell’s accuser told a court in New York on Wednesday how she was introduced by Jeffrey Epstein to Donald Trump at his Florida resort and took part in one of his beauty pageants, as the defence challenged her memory of the alleged abuse she suffered.

On the third day of the trial, “Jane” – now an actress in her 40s – was asked by Ms Maxwell’s lawyers whether she had been introduced to the former US president in Palm Beach.

“He [Epstein] took you to Mar-a-Lago when you were 14, you claim?” asked Lara Menninger, acting for the defence.

“Yes,” Jane said.

“He [Epstein] took you in a dark green car and you met Donald Trump there, correct?” Ms Menninger asked.

Jane spoke about a teen pageant she took part in years later wearing a $2,000 (£1,500) dress gifted to her by Epstein.

Jane, referred to as “Victim One” in Ms Maxwell’s indictment, told how at the age of 14 she had flown on Epstein’s private jet with high-profile figures including Prince Andrew, who was dragged into proceedings a day earlier during testimony given by the financier’s pilot.

Jane did not allege any wrongdoing by the Duke or Mr Trump. Ms Maxwell has denied six counts related to her alleged involvement in Epstein’s sexual abuse of teenage girls.

Jane said on Tuesday that she had sexual encounters with Epstein at his Palm Beach home multiple times a month when she was 14, 15 and 16. Other people participated, she said, including the heiress, 59, who touched her breasts.

Ms Menninger asked Jane about apparent discrepancies between her descriptions of Ms Maxwell’s role and earlier conversations with prosecutors before Ms Maxwell’s July 2020 arrest.

“When you spoke with the Government in December 2019, with your lawyers there, you told the Government you were not sure whether Maxwell ever touched you during these encounters, correct?” Ms Menninger asked. “I don’t recall,” Jane replied.

“You told the Government you were not sure if Ghislaine kissed you,” the defence continued. “I don’t recall,” she said. “You told the Government you had no memory of Ghislaine being present when you claim Epstein engaged in any sexual contact?” “I don’t recall,” she said.

Alison Moe interjected with objections nearly 30 times during cross-examination, with many sustained.

‘My timeline was wrong,’ alleged victims admits

Ms Maxwell’s defence pointed to a statement Jane gave the US Government about flying to New York with Epstein and Ms Maxwell when she was 14 in 1994 to see The Lion King. However, they said she must have been mistaken as the musical did not open until 1997.

“My timeline was wrong,” Jane admitted. Ms Menninger spoke about other young women who Jane claimed were present during the abuse.

One aspect of Ms Maxwell’s defence is attempting to undermine accusers’ recollection of events. Her attorneys are expected to call psychologist Elizabeth Loftus as a witness, to discuss how people can form “false memories”.

The prosecution attempted to paint a picture of an alleged victim changing her story to include accusations against the British socialite only after the late financier’s death in 2019.

Jane’s first meeting with authorities was in late 2019. On Tuesday, Jane said she did not tell anybody about any abuse because she was “terrified” and “felt gross and ashamed”.

“These memories came to you after two years?” Ms Menninger said, insinuating she and others were scapegoating Ms Maxwell for Epstein’s crimes. “Memory is not linear,” Jane answered.

Jane ended her time in the witness box saying she was hoping to “finally find some closure to all of this”.

Siblings show their support for Ghislaine

After court was adjourned for the day, Ms Maxwell’s brother Kevin expressed relief at seeing his sister for the first time in more than 500 days.

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Andhra Pradesh sees 184 Covid cases, 1 death | Visakhapatnam News

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VISAKHAPATNAM: Andhra Pradesh reported 184 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday. The toll increased to 14,443 as one more patient succumbed in Krishna district and 183 patients were declared cured on Wednesday.
There are currently 2,149 active cases with 20,56,501 cumulative recoveries and 14,443 fatalities.
Chittoor reported 39 new infections on Wednesday, followed by Visakhapatnam (28) and Vizianagaram (27).
Five districts posted single-digit case numbers.

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