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Whitmer calls Cuomo allegations ‘gut-wrenching’ but won’t call for resignation


Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan and a rising Democratic star, had “the same gut-wrenching reaction that a lot of women in America did” when she heard one of five women who say Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed them describe her alleged experiences with the New York governor.

But like other senior Democrats, Whitmer stopped short of saying Cuomo should resign, despite pressure to do so in light of recent cases in which other powerful men, among them the former Minnesota senator Al Franken, have been swiftly forced to step down.

“I think the allegations here are very serious,” Whitmer told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, “and I do think that an impartial thorough independent investigation is merited and appropriate.

“And if [the allegations are] accurate and true, I think we have to take action. But we also need to make sure that there is that thorough investigation I know that the [New York] attorney general is moving forward on that.”

Later, in a press call about the Covid-19 pandemic, Cuomo told reporters he would not resign because it would be “anti-democratic” to do so.

“I’m not going to resign because of allegations,” the governor said. “The premise of resigning because of allegations is actually anti-democratic.”

Cuomo said he was elected by people not politicians and said the system depended on due process.

Whitmer has discussed her own experience of sexual assault. She also backed Joe Biden when he denied an accusation last year, telling CNN: “Just because you’re a survivor doesn’t mean that every claim is equal. It means we give them the ability to make their case. And then to make a judgment that is informed.”

This week, former Cuomo aide Charlotte Bennett told CBS how she says Cuomo behaved towards her.

“I thought, ‘He’s trying to sleep with me,’” she said. “‘The governor is trying to sleep with me and I’m deeply uncomfortable. And I have to get out of this room as soon as possible.’”

On Sunday, Whitmer was asked how she felt while watching Bennett’s interview.

“I think that there are a lot of American women who have felt how she felt,” she said. “And I think that’s something that resonates and why we need to take this seriously, and why there needs to be a full investigation, and whatever is appropriate in terms of accountability should follow.

“I wouldn’t help anyone for me to prejudge where this is headed, but I had the same gut-wrenching reaction that I’m sure a lot of women in America did.”

Elsewhere, former Cuomo adviser Lindsey Boylan has said the governor made inappropriate comments on her appearance, kissed her on the lips at the end of a meeting and suggested a game of strip poker as they sat with other aides on a plane.

Anna Ruch, who did not work for Cuomo, has described him putting his hands on her face and asking if he could kiss her when they met at a wedding.

In reports published on Saturday, two more women described alleged misconduct.

Ana Liss told the Wall Street Journal that when she was a policy aide between 2013 and 2015, Cuomo called her “sweetheart”, kissed her hand and asked personal questions, including whether she had a boyfriend. She said he sometimes greeted her with a hug and a kiss on both cheeks.

Liss said she first thought such behaviour harmless but it grew to bother her and it was “not appropriate, really, in any setting”.

Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, told the Journal: “Reporters and photographers have covered the governor for 14 years watching him kiss men and women and posing for pictures. At the public open-house mansion reception, there are hundreds of people, and he poses for hundreds of pictures. That’s what people in politics do.”

The Washington Post published a claim by Karen Hinton, a press aide to Cuomo when he was US housing secretary under Bill Clinton. She told the Post he “summoned her to his dimly lit hotel room and embraced her after a work event in 2000”.

Peter Ajemian, Cuomo’s director of communications, told the paper: “This did not happen. Karen Hinton is a known antagonist of the governor’s who is attempting to take advantage of this moment to score cheap points with made-up allegations from 21 years ago.”

Cuomo has also been widely accused of workplace bullying. The Post published accounts by men and women of what one called “a systemic, intentional, hostile, toxic workplace environment that … perpetuates abusive treatment of people who don’t have power or resources.”

Ajemian said: “The governor is direct with employees if their work is sub-par because the people of New York deserve nothing short of excellence.”

Earlier this week, Cuomo denied touching anyone inappropriately. But he also apologised for behaving in a way he said he now realised upset women. He said he had made jokes and asked personal questions in an attempt to be playful and frequently greeted people with hugs and kisses like his father, Mario Cuomo, did when he was governor.

“I understand sensitivities have changed,” Cuomo said. “Behavior has changed. I get it and I’m going to learn from it.”

The New York attorney general, Letitia James, plans to hire an outside law firm to investigate the allegations. Some lawmakers have called for Cuomo to resign over his workplace behaviour – and separate allegations that his administration misled the public about coronavirus fatalities in nursing homes.

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Biden officials visit US-Mexico border to monitor increase in crossings


The new US secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, led a visit by Biden administration officials to the border with Mexico on Saturday, amid a growing number of border crossings and criticism by Republicans that a crisis is brewing.

Joe Biden has sought to reverse rigid immigration polices set up by his predecessor as president, Donald Trump, whose presidency was dominated by efforts to build a border wall and reduce the number of legal and illegal migrants.

Biden has faced criticism from immigration activists who say unaccompanied children and families are being held too long in detention centers instead of being released while asylum applications are considered.

The White House said last week Biden had asked senior members of his staff to travel to the border and report back about the influx of unaccompanied minors. It declined at the time to release details about the trip, citing security and privacy concerns.

Mayorkas and officials including domestic policy adviser Susan Rice visited a border patrol facility and a refugee resettlement facility, the White House said on Sunday.

“They discussed capacity needs given the number of unaccompanied children and families arriving at our border,” a statement said, “the complex challenges with rebuilding our gutted border infrastructure and immigration system, as well as improvements that must be made in order to restore safe and efficient procedures to process, shelter, and place unaccompanied children with family or sponsors.

“Officials also discussed ways to ensure the fair and humane treatment of immigrants, the safety of the workforce, and the wellbeing of communities nearby in the face of a global pandemic.”

An influx of people seeking to cross the border is likely to be a big issue in the 2022 midterm elections. Trump may use it to rally his base against Biden and lay the groundwork for a potential return as a presidential candidate in 2024 or as a way to boost a successor.

“The border is breaking down as I speak,” Republican South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, told Fox News on Sunday.

“Immigration in 2022 will be a bigger issue than it was in 2016.”

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Senate debates as Republicans attempt to derail $1.9tn Covid relief bill – live


White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about whether Joe Biden would soon speak to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Psaki said the two leaders would speak “at some point,” but she did not give a clear sense of when that might happen.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Joe Biden is “not engaged in conversations or negotiations about lowering the threshold for the minimum wage”.

Psaki reiterated that Biden strongly supports Bernie Sanders’ proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, but she said the president is currently focused on passing the coronavirus relief bill.

Psaki’s comments come as the Senate appears to have rejected Sanders’ amendment to add a minimum wage provision to the relief package.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about whether Joe Biden was concerned that it seems like his coronavirus relief bill will not attract bipartisan support in Congress.

“Bipartisanship is not determined by a single zip code in Washington, DC,” Psaki replied.

The press secretary noted that polls have shown a large majority of the American people support the relief package, and she argued those polls were a better reflection of the bipartisan support for the bill.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the Detroit mayor’s rejection of a shipment of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine because of its lower efficacy rate compared to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

“Our team has been in touch with the mayor. There’s been a bit of a misunderstanding,” Psaki said.

Echoing public health experts, the press secretary once again encouraged Americans to receive whichever of the three approved coronavirus vaccines that is made available to them.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said a group of senior officials will soon travel to the US-Mexican border to provide Joe Biden with a briefing on the influx of unaccompanied migrant children at the border.

Citing security concerns, Psaki would not provide details on which officials were going or where specifically along the border they would be traveling to.

When a reporter noted that Donald Trump has criticized Biden’s immigration agenda, Psaki replied, “We don’t take our advice or counsel from former President Trump on immigration policy.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was once again asked about Joe Biden’s views on the Senate filibuster.

“His view and his position haven’t changed,” Psaki said.

Biden has previously voiced opposition to the idea of scrapping the filibuster, although he has left himself some wiggle room if Republicans attempt to obstruct all of his agenda, which progressives have said is a virtual certainty.

As of now, Democrats don’t have the votes to eliminate the filibuster because at least two moderate Democratic senators, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, has said they are against the idea.

Jen Psaki said Joe Biden will hold his first full press conference as president “before the end of the month”.

Biden has received some criticism for not yet holding a solo press conference, as many reporters have noted that Barack Obama and Donald Trump had already held press conferences by this point in their presidencies.

Psaki defended the timing of the press conference, saying Biden has been focused on responding to the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic fallout.

The press secretary also noted Biden frequently takes questions from reporters after his events, but the president usually just answers one or two questions before departing.

Joe Biden will travel to Baltimore on Wednesday to meet with the CEOs of Johnson & Johnson and Merck, press secretary Jen Psaki just announced.

The trip comes days after the president announced Merck would start producing Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine.

Biden said he would invoke the Defense Production Act to help Merck facilities get the needed resources to start producing the vaccine.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki is now holding her daily briefing, and she started the event by commenting on the latest jobs report.

“While it shows some progress, it also shows the long road ahead,” Psaki said.

The press secretary noted that the US economy still has about 9.5 million fewer jobs than it did in February 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic started.

The jobs report will be discussed when Joe Biden receives an economic briefing from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen later today, Psaki said.

Former Cuomo aide says he is ‘textbook abuser’

Richard Luscombe reports for the Guardian:

A former aide to Andrew Cuomo who has accused the New York governor of sexual harassment has said she believes he is a “textbook abuser” who knew she was a survivor of sexual violence and nevertheless made inappropriate advances.

Charlotte Bennett, 25, Cuomo’s former executive assistant and health policy adviser, told CBS Evening News on Thursday that Cuomo was trying to proposition her for sex during an “uncomfortable” encounter in his office last spring, and that she felt she “had to get out of this room as soon as possible”.

CBS Evening News

CUOMO ACCUSER SPEAKS OUT: In her first television interview, Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, speaks with @NorahODonnell about her allegations of sexual harassment against the governor, providing the most detailed account yet from one of Cuomo’s accusers.

March 4, 2021

She said it was one of multiple incidents in which the 63-year-old governor, who is also facing similar allegations from two other women, acted inappropriately.

“He is a textbook abuser,” Bennett said, when asked how she would describe Cuomo. “He lets his temper and his anger rule the office, but he was very sweet to me for a year in the hope that maybe one day when he came on to me I would think we were friends or that it was appropriate or that it was OK.”

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