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McAuliffe and Youngkin split on COVID mandates, abortion and energy policy in first debate

The first gubernatorial debate between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin Thursday was a combative standoff over political differences as much as personal jabs.

The hourlong forum at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, about seven weeks before the Nov. 2 election, forced the candidates into firm positions on a number of key issues like abortion and police misconduct, but also became muddled by unruly baiting and infighting: Youngkin repeatedly characterized McAuliffe as a liar, while McAuliffe taunted Youngkin as being out of control.

McAuliffe and Youngkin met in Grundy for one of only two scheduled debates between the two candidates on the eve of the start of early voting in Virginia. McAuliffe, the former governor, will try to ride the popularity of his first term and Virginia’s trend in favor of Democrats back to the Executive Mansion. Youngkin, a former private equity executive, is trying to become the first Republican elected statewide since 2009 on an agenda of tax cuts and by casting himself as a political outsider.

Here are some key takeaways from the debate:

COVID-19

The ongoing pandemic was the first topic of the night and appears it will remain a key issue in the campaign's final weeks. Vaccine mandates in particular continue to be a source of division among the candidates.

Youngkin sought to fend off attacks from the McAuliffe campaign, which derides Youngkin’s opposition to vaccine mandates as dangerous. Youngkin said it is a lie that he is opposed to vaccines or part of a growing movement in the U.S. that is skeptical of them: “That's a lie, I'm not anti-vax.”

“I have been a strong, strong advocate for everyone to get the vaccine. I do believe that individuals should be allowed to make that decision on their own,” Youngkin said.

Pressed by moderator Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of USA Today, about whether he would challenge the legality of President Joe Biden’s sweeping vaccine mandate for employers and federal employees, Youngkin said he didn’t believe Biden had the power to do what he’s doing, but wouldn’t commit to challenging it legally if elected.

Page pressed McAuliffe on whether he would support mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for schoolchildren - who are required to meet other immunization requirements. McAuliffe said he would “absolutely” support such a mandate for children over the age of 12, the youngest age for which the vaccine has been approved. He wouldn’t weigh in on younger ages, citing the lack of federal approval.

Energy policy

Youngkin on Thursday took a firm stance against the state’s new clean energy policy, the Virginia Clean Economy Act, saying he would not have signed it. Youngkin’s position reflects that of many Republicans in the state.

The law would end all sale of electricity in Virginia that doesn’t come from renewable sources by the year 2045. Youngkin said the state can reduce carbon emissions without the plan, which he said is not realistic and would be expensive to bill payers.

“It puts our entire energy grid at risk. I believe in all energy sources: we can use wind and solar, but we need to preserve our clean natural gas,” Youngkin said.

McAuliffe said he would approach ending the state’s reliance on carbon more aggressively than the act does, calling for an end of nonrenewables by 2035, not 2045.

“When I think of clean energy, I think jobs,” McAuliffe said, throwing his support behind an offshore wind development by Dominion Energy off the coast of Virginia Beach.

Abortion

Youngkin reiterated that he opposes abortions but said he would not sign a law like the one that recently took effect in Texas.

“I would not sign the Texas bill today. As I've said for this entire campaign, I'm pro-life. I believe in exceptions in the case of rape and incest and when the life of the mother is in jeopardy. But the Texas bill also was unworkable and confusing,” Youngkin said.

Asked whether he would sign a bill limiting women’s access to an abortion when a heartbeat is detected — usually at around six weeks — with the exceptions he’s outlined, Youngkin dodged.

Youngkin said instead that a “pain threshold bill” — a bill banning abortions at the point at which a fetus can feel pain, which has sometimes been deemed 20 weeks — “would be appropriate.”

McAuliffe was also pressed on the issue of abortion. Asked whether he would support a bill similar to the one proposed by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, which would make it easier for women to access third trimester abortions when their life is in danger, McAuliffe said “of course I would support that.”

Later, McAuliffe suggested his support for third-trimester abortions was not wholesale. “I support a woman's right to make her own decisions up through the second trimester, that's what I support.”

(McAuliffe again dodged on the issue of Virginia's right-to-work law, refusing to state clearly whether he would support repeal.)

Qualified immunity

McAuliffe and Youngkin agreed that they oppose ending qualified immunity in the state — an about-face from McAuliffe who said during the Democratic primary he would support ending the policy that protects police officers from facing civil lawsuits when they violate a civilian’s civil rights on the job.

Republicans have broadly opposed ending qualified immunity, but many Democratic legislators, civil rights advocates and protesters against police brutality have said it protects police officers from facing the consequences of wrongdoing.

“I would not end it. It's called qualified immunity for a reason. Any officer who's acting in good faith will have the full protections of the commonwealth of Virginia,” McAuliffe said.


Millions pour into Virginia race for governor; Youngkin's wealth helps him outraise McAuliffe in latest period

Both major-party candidates for governor continued to haul in unprecedented amounts of cash into their campaigns over the summer, with Republican Glenn Youngkin edging Democrat Terry McAuliffe in fundraising and spending during the period.

Virginia’s gubernatorial contest, the highest-profile competitive race in the nation this fall, had already broken statewide fundraising records heading into the summer — and the cash continues to flow. The candidates had combined to raise $66 million to date through August, double the previous record at that stage, set in 2013, when McAuliffe faced Republican Ken Cuccinelli.

In July and August, Youngkin raked $15.7 million into his campaign coffers, including personal loans totaling $4.5 million. The latest loans brought Youngkin’s personal contributions to his campaign to $16.5 million.

McAuliffe, governor from 2014 to 2018, raised $11.5 million in the period, all from contributions, according to campaign disclosures analyzed by the Virginia Public Access Project.

Heading into the last stretch of the race — early voting in Virginia starts Friday — McAuliffe’s campaign reported having far more cash on hand at $12.6 million, compared with the Youngkin campaign’s $6 million.

Youngkin’s campaign spent more in the past two months, elevating a candidate who is a newcomer to Virginia politics. Youngkin’s campaign spent $12.2 million in July and August, compared with the McAuliffe campaign’s $7.6 million.

Youngkin’s top donation, aside from the Republican Party apparatus, was $250,000 from Thomas A. Saunders III, who runs a private investment firm and is the chairman of the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation. He also received $75,000 from Bill Koch, the billionaire businessman brother to Charles and David Koch.

Youngkin received $100,000 from the American Economic Freedom Alliance, a free-market advocacy group that has run ads in Indiana and New York opposing tax credits for undocumented immigrants and some parts of the Affordable Care Act.

Youngkin also received $87,500 from members of Betsy DeVos’ family and DeVos herself. DeVos, a billionaire, was education secretary under President Donald Trump and a strong advocate for charter schools, which Youngkin supports.

McAuliffe’s biggest donors include the political arms of the Laborers’ International Union of North America and the Virginia League of Conservation Voters. Together, both groups contributed $1 million to his campaign.

At a time when McAuliffe’s position on the state’s right-to-work law is under scrutiny, the Democrat continued to receive significant support from labor groups, including $200,000 from the Communication Workers of America Worker Voices.

McAuliffe also took in $250,000 from George Soros, the Democratic megadonor. He took in $20,000 from tech giant Amazon.

McAuliffe received $150,000 from the political arm of Planned Parenthood, which supports expanding abortion access — a key dividing issue between McAuliffe and Youngkin.

Youngkin gave $20,000 to the Family Foundation Action, which advocates in favor of laws restricting abortion access in Virginia. The group is hosting a “Virginia March for Life” in Richmond on Friday.

House of Delegates

Democrats are decisively winning the race for cash in the battle for control of the House of Delegates, but Republican candidates are getting outside help in key races from independent expenditures by Americans for Prosperity and other conservative political organizations. All 100 seats are up in November. Democrats currently hold a 55-45 edge.

House Democrats ended the fundraising chase through August with more than $11.8 million on hand, almost double the $6 million cash balance for Republicans, with $1.3 million from Charlottesville super-donor Sonjia Smith alone.

Nine of the most flush candidates are Democrats, led by Democratic leaders in non-competitive races ready to help more vulnerable members of their caucus.

Some of those candidates ended the fundraising period with strong cash advantages, including Del. Rodney Willett, D-Henrico, who had a balance of $382,260 for his marquee rematch with Republican Mary Margaret Kastelberg, who ended August with $179,641 on hand. Willett started the period with more than a 2:1 advantage and outraised Kastelberg, $295,951 to $131,474.

Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, raised three times the amount of money as his Republican challenger, Christopher Holmes, and ended the period with $425,833 on hand. Holmes had $84,923 on hand for the final two months of the race.

Other Democrats in the top 10 for campaign war chests are Del. Dan Helmer, D-Fairfax; Del. Nancy Guy, D-Virginia Beach; Del. Josh Cole, D-Fredericksburg; and Del. Roslyn Tyler, D-Sussex. All of them face strong challenges in races targeted by Republicans eager to regain control of the House after two years in the minority.

One exception is Republican Nick Clemente, who came in 10th, with $303,645 on hand for his closely watched race against Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke, who finished the period with $274,376.

But Republicans also are getting outside help from Americans for Prosperity, which has made almost $556,000 in independent expenditures on behalf of GOP candidates, and Make Liberty Win, a political action committee based in Alexandria, which has spent nearly $89,000 to help Clemente and Colonial Heights City Councilman Mike Cherry in his bid for the seat being vacated by former House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights. Cherry’s opponent, Democrat Katie Sponsler, ended the period with $157,563 in the bank, about $46,000 more than the Republican.

Americans for Prosperity also has thrown its financial support behind Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Chesterfield, spending $121,344 to help her defend her seat against Democratic challenger Debra Gardner. Gardner ended August with a fundraising advantage, with $245,183 on hand, compared with $133,090 for Robinson.

AFP also has made independent expenditures on behalf of Kastelberg; Cherry; and Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield, in her race against Democrat Jasmine Gore. Coyner ended the period with $135,943 on hand, compared with $12,174 for Gore.

The group also is spending on behalf of Otto Wachsmann, who is seeking to unseat Tyler in a rematch of their close 2019 contest; Jason Ballard, who is challenging Del. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery; and Clemente. Tyler ended the period with more than three times the cash of Wachsmann. Hurst holds a more than 2-to-1 advantage over Ballard.

In other Richmond-area races, Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, finished with $242,441, compared with $52,021 for Republican Mark Earley, although she raised about $7,000 more than he did in the two-month period. Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, raised $161,000 more during the period than her Republican challenger, Kim Taylor. Aird ended August with $210,687 in the bank, compared with $84,779 for Taylor.

Lieutenant governor, attorney general

In the race for attorney general, Democratic incumbent Mark Herring outraised GOP challenger Jason Miyares, $1,452,180 to $707,203.

Herring reported more than $1.3 million in cash on hand at the end of the reporting period, while Miyares reported more than $1 million.

A good chunk of Herring’s cash — $500,000 — came from the Democratic Attorneys General Association, which is funded by corporations that want to move money into politics. The association provided Herring with an additional $95,185 of in-kind services. Miyares’ top donor for the period was Richard Gilliam, the founder of a coal mining company, who gave $75,000. Gilliam, who sold the coal operation in 2010, has long been a top donor to GOP candidates in Virginia.

In the race for lieutenant governor, Democratic nominee Hala Ayala raised $800,081 in the period, compared with $630,192 for GOP nominee Winsome Sears. Ayala had $888,121 in cash on hand as of Aug. 31, compared with $325,626 for Sears.


National
Biden $3.5T plan a test of voter appeal

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s “build back better” agenda is poised to be the most far-reaching federal investment since FDR’s New Deal or LBJ’s Great Society — a prodigious effort to tax the rich and shift money into projects and programs touching the lives of nearly every American.

The thousands of pages being drafted and debated in Congress are the template for grand ambitions of the Biden agenda, a full funding of Democratic orthodoxy. The plan envisions the government shoring up U.S. households, setting industrial policy to tackle climate change and confronting the gaping income inequality that was laid bare by the COVID-19 crisis.

On Thursday, Biden framed the package as a long-overdue opportunity to reshape the modern economy to be more equitable for middle class families.

“This is our moment to deal working people back into the economy. This is our moment to prove to the American people that their government works for them, not just for big corporations or those at the very top,” Biden said during remarks at the White House.

Biden cited the climate change provisions of the plan, declaring that they would “confront the crisis of extreme weather events.” But he emphasized the way his package would hike taxes on the wealthy and corporations to pay for what he said amount to tax cuts for the middle class.

As the contours of the $3.5 trillion package come into focus, an undertaking on par with those earlier landmark programs, Americans will have to assess: Is this what they signed up for when Biden won the White House?

Lawmakers on the front lines are about to find out.

“We’re doing hard things,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Democrats’ campaign committee tasked with maintaining the party’s slender majority.

Republicans are attempting to label the Biden agenda as “far left” and “socialism” that they will fiercely oppose.

If Biden can pass his plan, it will become a central referendum in the midterm elections in 2022 on whether voters embrace the vision put forth by Democrats who control the White House and Congress.

Among the Democrats’ goals are priorities like universal child care and lower prescription drug prices that have been elusive for decades.

Republicans have largely sidelined themselves from the debate, other than to say they are a hard “no” on Biden’s priorities. Democrats are relying on a budget process that will enable them to pass or fail with their votes alone, resulting in bruising internal party debate between centrists and liberals.

Biden referenced the clash within his party, noting that “some of my liberal friends” would like to see him lower the $400,000 threshold he set at which Americans should expect to see higher taxes.

The Democratic differences may yet doom Biden’s project. Biden met separately Wednesday at the White House with key centrist holdouts, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who want to lower the price-tag substantially. Meanwhile, the House was almost forced to halt deliberations as centrists objected to new restrictions on pharmaceutical company drug pricing.

Still, Democrats appear determined not to let this moment slip. Even with their majority at risk, they appear poised to push the package to passage.

“Democrats see that we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to head this country in a better direction,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., after an intense private meeting of Democrats this week.

“People talk about how big this package is, it’s big because we have under-invested for so long,” she said.

For all its scope, many of the tax and spending policies are not necessarily new, or even that revolutionary.

The tax provisions largely push top rates back to where they were before the 2017 GOP tax cuts, and the spending expands on popular safety net programs — for example, adding dental, vision and hearing aid benefits for seniors on Medicare.

The top tax rate bumps up to 39.6% on households earning more than $400,000, or $450,000 for married couples, before then President Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress lowered the top rate to 37%.

For corporations, the proposed 26.5% rate would be an increase from today’s 21%, but not as high as the 28% it had been before the GOP tax cuts.

There would be a tax on wealthier Americans — 3% on earnings above $5 million a year — but so far the House has refrained from imposing a billionaires or wealth tax as the Senate is considering, mindful as Republicans pile on complaints that Democrats are sliding toward European-styled socialism.

On the spending side, the bill would mostly expand on existing programs — continuing a COVID-19 increase in subsidies for people who buy their own health insurance and boosting funding for states to make community colleges free and for Pell Grants to make university tuitions more affordable.

As the coronavirus forced millions of parents, particularly women, out of the workforce to care for children and elderly adults, the Democrats are seizing on the opportunity to upgrade the safety net and begin to address simmering inequities along racial and class lines.

There’s universal pre-kindergarten, lower cost child care, paid family leave for working adults, an extension of the $300 a month child tax credit that was put in place during the COVID crisis. To help care for elderly Americans, it would shift Medicaid funding away from nursing homes for poorer seniors and toward home healthcare, as many older adults prefer to age in place.

The climate change provisions tap into long-running ideas to impose new emissions restrictions and to boost the electrical vehicles industry.

The last time Democrats succeeded in accomplishing something this big, the Affordable Care Act, it cost them their House majority in the 2010 midterm election, during then-President Barack Obama’s first term.


Crime-and-courts
Etute hearing in Radford is delayed

RADFORD — Traffic charges against former Virginia Tech football player Isimemen David Etute won’t be heard for months, attorneys said Thursday outside a Radford courtroom.

“He’s got bigger problems,” city Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Rehak said.

The former Hokie linebacker was scheduled to appear in Radford General District Court Thursday to resolve traffic charges incurred in the city on Memorial Day, the same day Etute is accused of killing a man he mistook for a woman during a sexual encounter, according to previous testimony.

In Montgomery County, Etute is charged with second-degree murder for the death of Jerry Paul Smith, 40, a restaurant project manager who was killed in his downtown Blacksburg apartment. Etute has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Sept. 23 in the county’s General District Court.

Rehak and Etute defense attorney Jimmy Turk said Thursday that the traffic charges in Radford will be pushed months down the calendar. The new date for hearing the charges was later set Thursday for Feb. 17.

Turk said that the charges of reckless driving and failing to obey a stop sign were unrelated to what happened between Etute and Smith, and occurred hours before Etute went to Smith’s apartment. Turk said that his client and some friends attended a soccer match at Radford High School on Memorial Day, and after watching the contest, left and were pulled over for driving too fast.

Court records said Etute was pulled over at 4 p.m. on Memorial Day, when he was driving a 2019 BMW SUV. Security footage at Smith’s apartment building showed Etute and two other men in the hallway outside the apartment at about 9 p.m., and Etute going into the apartment.

Etute’s murder case has drawn wide attention because of the still-emerging nature of his relationship with Smith, as well as Etute’s potential as an up and coming Hokie player. According to Turk and a Montgomery County prosecutor who spoke at Etute’s bond hearing in June, Etute had arranged online to meet someone who he thought was a woman named Angie and in April had an encounter with the person that involved oral sex.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jason Morgan said at the bond hearing that Etute told police he went to Smith’s apartment for sexual activity. But when he discovered Angie was a man, Etute began punching, then “stomping” Smith, Morgan said. Smith’s teeth were knocked out, all of the bones in his face were broken, and he had cranial fractures, Morgan said.

In June, a spokesperson for Smith’s family described him as a proud, openly gay man.

At the bond hearing, Turk said that Smith solicited Etute for sex.

Etute, of Virginia Beach, majored in human development at Tech, according to a statement the university issued in June. He was a 2021 signee from Frank W. Cox High School who enrolled at midyear and began practicing with the team during spring camp.

After his arrest for murder in June, Etute was released on a $75,000 secured bond and placed under electronic monitoring and house arrest at his family’s home in Williamsburg.


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