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Rep. Gallego announces bid for Sinema’s Arizona Senate seat

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PHOENIX (AP) — Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, a liberal firebrand and prominent Latino lawmaker, announced Monday he’ll challenge independent U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in 2024, becoming the first candidate to jump into the race and setting up a potential three-way contest.

Gallego said he’d fight for normal people struggling to make ends meet and losing faith in politicians. He said he and Sinema both come from “modest to poor means” but have taken different paths in Congress.

“I’m better for this job than Kyrsten Sinema because I haven’t forgotten where I came from,” Gallego told The Associated Press. “I think she clearly has forgotten where she came from. Instead of meeting with the people that need help, she meets with the people that are already powerful.”

Gallego, a 43-year-old military veteran first elected to Congress in 2014, had made no secret of his interest in challenging Sinema, a longtime rival in Arizona politics who has been a roadblock and irritant to Democrats during Joe Biden’s presidency. She left the Democratic Party in December, registering as an independent and saying she doesn’t “fit well into a traditional party system.” She has not said whether she plans to run for a second term.

Although no Republican has entered the race, potential contenders include former gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, former U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters and Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb — all of whom are closely aligned with former President Donald Trump. Karrin Taylor Robson, a housing developer who lost to Lake in last year’s primary, and former Gov. Doug Ducey are also possible contenders.

A three-way race, coupled with the risk that Sinema and the eventual Democratic nominee will split the vote, would complicate the party’s already uphill battle to maintain control of the Senate in 2024. Democrats will be forced to defend 23 seats, including Sinema’s and two others held by independents, compared with just 10 seats for Republicans.

With tough and expensive races on the horizon, it remains unclear just how firmly the Democratic establishment and major donors will line up against Sinema, who has voted for most Democratic legislation even as she’s stood in the way of major priorities for the White House, congressional leaders and the progressive movement.

“I’m assuming that they will be with us because we are going to run the winning campaign, and because at the end of the day, if you look at where Arizonans are going to be, they’re going to be with us and not with her,” Gallego told the AP.

A spokesperson for Sinema, Hannah Hurley, declined to comment on Gallego’s announcement.

Gallego, an acerbic presence on social media who is quick to take down rivals from both parties, floated the idea of challenging Sinema to raise money last year and has for weeks been publicly assembling a team of advisers, hiring Democratic campaign veterans with experience working on tough swing-state Senate races in Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

He announced his campaign with an online video that shows him talking to veterans at an American Legion post in Guadalupe, a Latino and Indigenous community just outside Phoenix. He said his path from humble roots, beating the odds by getting accepted to Harvard University, motivates him to fight to preserve the American dream, first in the military and now in politics.

The son of immigrants from Mexico and Colombia, Gallego was raised in Chicago by a single mother, after his father was imprisoned for dealing drugs. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Reserves while he was on a break from Harvard, where he struggled with culture shock. He wrote in a 2021 book, “They Called Us Lucky,” that he was asked to leave during his sophomore year, when he partied too much, his grades slipped and he broke unspecified rules. He was later allowed to return.

He fought in Iraq in 2005 in a unit that sustained heavy casualties, including the death of his best friend, and he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning. He moved to Arizona to join his Harvard girlfriend, who had become active in Democratic politics in the state. The couple married in 2010 and divorced in 2017, a month before their son was born. His ex-wife, Kate Gallego, is now the mayor of Phoenix.

Gallego was elected in 2010 to the state Legislature, where Sinema also served for one of his two terms. In 2014, he won a bitter congressional primary, toppling a dynastic figure in the Phoenix Latino community. He’s giving up a safe Democratic seat in Congress, a district that includes the Black and Latino neighborhoods of south and west Phoenix.

In Congress, he has focused on veterans and military issues.

Sinema has modeled her political approach on the maverick style of the late Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who alienated the grassroots of his party by sometimes crossing the aisle to work with Democrats. She’s become a fierce advocate of bipartisan compromise in an era when extreme partisanship has made it much more difficult.

She has been at the center of many of the biggest congressional deals of Biden’s presidency, from a big, bipartisan infrastructure package to a landmark bill to legally protect same-sex marriages. But she’s also become estranged from many Democrats, who blame her for voting down progressive priorities like a minimum wage hike and watering down others, like Biden’s big social spending initiatives. She single-handedly thwarted Democrats’ longtime goal of raising taxes on wealthy investors.

Her support for maintaining the filibuster, a Senate rule requiring 60 of 100 votes to pass most legislation, has made her a pariah among Democrats, who need Republican support to pass most bills despite controlling a majority of seats. The tension reached a head in 2021, when Democrats tried and failed to pass voting rights legislation.

Sinema doubled down on her position last week, telling global elites in Davos, Switzerland, that democracy didn’t collapse in the 2022 election despite her support for the filibuster.

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West Virginia lawmakers push to remove a suicide risk exemption from gender-affirming care bill

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AP

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Some Republican lawmakers in West Virginia want to ban transgender youth at risk for self-harm or suicide from accessing medical interventions such as hormone therapy.

The GOP-controlled Legislature banned such interventions last year while allowing the self-harm and suicide exception. Now, a group of lawmakers want to eliminate that narrow definition, which requires parental consent and a diagnosis of severe gender dysphoria from two medical professionals, both of whom must provide written testimony that medical interventions are necessary to prevent or limit possible or actual self-harm.

Coming up against a major legislative deadline next week, lawmakers in the House Health and Human Resources Committee on Friday rushed to advance a bill to the full chamber that would completely ban interventions like hormone therapy and puberty blockers. Gender-affirming surgery, which physicians testified doesn’t occur in the state, was banned last year.

It’s unclear what the chances of passage are for the bill. The House of Delegates passed a similar measure last year, but it was significantly altered by Republican Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, a physician who expressed concern about the high suicide rate for transgender youth.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Republican Del. Geoff Foster, said Friday he thought last year’s bill — which he also sponsored — was better, “more clear and concise” without Takubo’s changes.

“These are very drastic solutions that aren’t fixing the problem,” he said of puberty blockers and hormone therapy, saying what’s needed is more treatment for depression. He may not believe in gender-affirming care, he said, but those 18 and older can make their own decisions, not kids.

No one spoke in support of the measure before the vote in House Health, but the committee defeated a motion by Democratic Del. Mike Pushkin to allow youth receiving treatment to continue, even if the interventions are banned for new patients.

No testimony was shared by patients who receive the care or the physicians who treat them. Fairness West Virginia, the state’s only LGBTQ advocacy organization, said a request submitted for a public hearing was denied Friday by Republican House Speaker Roger Hanshaw’s office.

“The argument for this bill is that these are irreversible decisions made by minors, but that’s not true,” Pushkin said, before the vote. “This type of treatment is reversible — what isn’t reversible is suicide.”

At least 23 states have now enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors, and most of those states face lawsuits. Lawmakers in West Virginia and other states advancing bans on transgender health care for youth and young adults often characterize gender-affirming treatments as medically unproven, potentially dangerous and a symptom of “woke” culture.

On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia said they wouldn’t hesitate to take legal action, too.

“If this bill becomes law, we’ll see the state in court,” the organization wrote on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter.

Isabella Cortez, Gender Policy Manager for Fairness West Virginia, called the vote “abhorrent” and a “last-minute mad dash to eliminate” care that has already been significantly limited.

Every major medical organization, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association, supports gender-affirming care for youths.

Many doctors, mental health specialists and medical groups have argued that treatments for young transgender people are safe and beneficial, though rigorous long-term research is lacking. Federal health officials have described gender-affirming care as crucial to the health and wellbeing of transgender children and adolescents.

Last year, West Virginia University Medicine Pediatrician Dr. Kacie Kidd — one of the only physicians offering this care to minors in the state — said the effects of puberty-blocking medications are reversible, though it’s rare that a patient chooses to reverse treatment.

Kidd, who is medical director of West Virginia University Medicine’s Children’s Gender and Sexual Development Clinic, also said no patients are placed on hormone therapy before they reach puberty. When minors are placed on hormone therapy, it’s a careful decision made in conjunction with the patient and their family members.

She also said she feared the bill would put her patients’ lives at risk, noting that the percentage of transgender adolescents considering suicide is around 300% higher than the rate for all West Virginia young people, regardless of gender identity. But interventions like puberty blockers and hormone therapy drastically reduce that risk, she said.

Takubo, a physician, cited more than a dozen peer-reviewed studies showing a decrease in rates of suicide ideation and attempts among youth with severe gender dysphoria who had access to medication therapy.

Gender dysphoria is defined by medical professionals as severe psychological distress experienced by those whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth.

Del. Foster said the bill as it was written last year contained all other exemptions it needed: one for those who are born intersex and another for people taking treatments for infection, injury, disease or disorder that has been “caused by or exacerbated by the performance of gender transition procedures.”

He said that the bill “already took care of any exceptions that were not specifically for the intention of changing one’s biological sex to one that was different than that assigned at birth.”

During Friday’s meeting, Democratic Del. Anitra Hamilton said there have been plenty of data and studies that carefully considered gender-affirming care and deemed it legitimate.

“I think our ultimate goal is prevention of suicide,” she said.

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Trump says his criminal indictments boosted his appeal to Black voters

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump claimed Friday that his four criminal indictments have boosted his support among Black Americans because they see him as a victim of discrimination, comparing his legal jeopardy to the historic legacy of anti-Black prejudice in the U.S. legal system.

Trump argues he is the victim of political persecution, even though there is no evidence President Joe Biden or White House officials influenced the filing of 91 felony charges against him. Earlier in the week, Trump compared himself to Alexei Navalny, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top domestic rival, who died in a remote Arctic prison after being jailed by the Kremlin leader.

“I got indicted for nothing, for something that is nothing,” Trump told a black-tie event for Black conservatives in South Carolina ahead of Saturday’s Republican primary. “And a lot of people said that’s why the Black people like me, because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against, and they actually viewed me as I’m being discriminated against. It’s been pretty amazing but possibly, maybe, there’s something there.”

Trump has centered his third campaign for the White House on his grievances against Biden and what he alleges is a “deep state” targeting him, even as he faces charges from his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, keeping classified documents at his Florida estate, and allegedly arranging payments to a porn actress. He is the dominant Republican front-runner, as many GOP voters echo his beliefs, and is favored to soundly beat former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in her home state.

Trump noted the mug shot taken by Georgia authorities after he was indicted on state racketeering charges over the 2020 election.

“When I did the mug shot in Atlanta, that mug shot is No. 1,” he said, adding: “You know who embraced it more than anyone else? The Black population.”

Trump’s campaign has predicted he can do better with Black voters in November than he did four years ago, citing Biden’s faltering poll numbers with Black adults and what Trump sees as advantages on issues like the economy and the record-high number of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, often ending up in cities with large Black populations.

He was flanked on stage at the Black Conservative Federation’s gala in Columbia, South Carolina, by Black elected officials including Reps. Byron Donalds of Florida and Wesley Hunt of Texas. Many in the crowd cheered throughout the speech.

In a freewheeling speech, Trump mixed his regular campaign remarks with appeals to the Black community and jokes that touched on race.

“The lights are so bright in my eyes I can’t see too many people out there. But I can only see the Black ones. I can’t see any white ones. That’s how far I’ve come,” Trump said to laughter from the audience.

He also said that he knew many Black people because his properties were built by Black construction workers.

In telling a story about how he renegotiated the cost of remodeling Air Force One, Trump criticized his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, the first Black person to be elected to the White House.

“I have to tell you, Black president, but I got $1.7 billion less,” Trump said. “Would you rather have the Black president or the white president who got $1.7 billion off the price?”

As the crowd cheered, he added, “I think they want the white guy.”

Republicans face an uphill battle in courting Black voters, who are overwhelmingly supportive of the Democratic Party. And while Black voter enthusiasm for Biden has cooled over the last year, only 25% of Black Americans said they had a favorable view of Trump in a December AP-NORC poll.

Democrats lambasted the speech, with former Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond, a co-chair of Biden’s reelection campaign, saying that “Donald Trump claiming that Black Americans will support him because of his criminal charges is insulting. It’s moronic. And it’s just plain racist.”

“He thinks Black voters are so uninformed that we won’t see through his shameless pandering. He has another thing coming,” Richmond said in a statement. “Trust me when I say, in November the very voting block that he continues to disrespect will make him eat these words.”

And Haley, speaking Saturday morning in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, called his speech “disgusting.”

“That’s what happens when he goes off the teleprompter,” she said. “That’s the chaos that comes with Donald Trump.”

Black voters who spoke with The Associated Press ahead of the gala expressed skepticism that Republicans, and Trump in particular, could persuade them to switch parties.

“There’s just so much controversy,” said Ebony McBeth, a Columbia resident and transportation worker. “I would go for Biden just because Trump has his own agenda.”

Isaac Williams Sr., a retired cook from Columbia and a lifelong Democrat, said he disliked both parties but found Trump to “have mobster tendencies. He’s only out for himself.”

Multiple conservatives interviewed said the Democratic Party’s appeal to Black voters was based on “emotional politics” by evoking racism.

“In order for the Republican Party to win more of the African American community over, we’ll have to invest a lot of time and more money into really letting people know our platform, because the truth of the matter is a lot of them, they agree with our platform but they don’t associate that with the Republican Party,” said Samuel Rivers Jr., a former Republican state senator in South Carolina.

Rivers, who is Black, argued that Black voters view Republicans “in a negative way based on emotional triggers of racism that no longer exists.”

Trump has a long history of stoking racial tensions. From his earliest days as a New York real estate developer, Trump has faced accusations of racist business practices. In 1989, he took out full-page newspaper ads calling for New York state to reinstate the death penalty as five Black and Latino teenagers were set to stand trial for beating and raping a white woman in Central Park. The five men were eventually exonerated in 2002 after another man admitted to the crime and it was determined their confessions were coerced.

He spent years spreading the lie that Obama was ineligible to hold office. When he was president, Trump derided “shithole countries” in Africa and said four congresswomen of color should go back to the “broken and crime-infested” countries they came from, ignoring the fact that all of the women are American citizens and three were born in the U.S.

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US investigators provide data on the helicopter crash that killed 6, including a Nigerian bank CEO

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AP

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A helicopter that was carrying the CEO of one of Nigeria’s largest banks and five others left a shallow crater and a trail of debris when it crashed in Southern California’s Mojave Desert earlier this month, according to investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board.

The agency on Friday released a preliminary investigation report into the Feb. 9 deadly crash. The report outlines the flight path across a remote stretch of desert on a rainy night and provides details about wreckage that was strewn across 100 yards (91.44 meters) of desert scrub. However, it did not address what might have caused the helicopter to go down.

Flight tracking data analyzed by investigators shows the helicopter was heading in a southeasterly direction as it gradually descended in altitude and increased in ground speed before the crash.

Investigators found the fuselage was fragmented, and the cockpit and cabin were destroyed. Damage to the engine and the metal deposits that were found would indicate that it was operational at the time of the crash.

The report cited law enforcement, saying several witnesses who were traveling in vehicles along Interstate 15 had called 911 to report observing a “fireball” to the south. The witnesses reported that it was raining with a mix of snow.

Two aviation experts who reviewed photos and video previously released by the NTSB said the flight likely should have been canceled because of poor nighttime weather conditions.

Herbert Wigwe, chief executive of Access Bank, and his wife and 29-year-old son were among those aboard the helicopter. Also killed was Bamofin Abimbola Ogunbanjo, former chair of the Nigerian stock exchange.

Both pilots — Benjamin Pettingill, 25, and Blake Hansen, 22 — also died. They were licensed as commercial helicopter pilots as well as flight instructors.

The charter company, Orbic Air LLC, has previously declined to comment and did not immediately return an email message left by The Associated Press on Saturday.

Flight-tracking data shows the helicopter was following the interstate until it made a slight right turn, turning south of the roadway, where it then descended gradually and increased in speed, according to the NTSB.

The wreckage site shows the helicopter hit the ground with its nose low at a right-bank angle. Aside from the fire, witnesses also reported downed power lines, the NTSB has said.

Clipping the power lines, which may have been hard for the pilot to see in the dark, could have caused the crash, said Al Diehl, a former NTSB investigator.

The agency’s investigation is ongoing.

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