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GSA offers to brief lawmakers on Biden transition next week; Emily Murphy won't host

  • The agency withholding funding from President-elect Joe Biden's transition said it is willing to grant House Democrats' requests for a briefing.
  • But the head of that agency, General Services Administration chief Emily Murphy, will not be leading that briefing, despite the demand from House Committee chairs that she "personally" explain herself.
  • Rather, Deputy Administrator Allison Brigati will "host a 30 minute briefing on Monday, November 30" — a week later than Democrats had asked for.
  • The Democrats appeared to reject the offer, demanding instead that Murphy brief them by Tuesday.

The federal agency that is withholding funding from President-elect Joe Biden's transition by refusing to "ascertain" his victory over President Donald Trump said Monday that it is willing to grant House Democrats' requests for a briefing.

But the head of that agency, General Services Administration chief Emily Murphy, will not be leading that briefing, despite the demand from House Committee chairs that she "personally" explain herself.

Rather, a GSA spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC that Deputy Administrator Allison Brigati will "host a 30 minute briefing on Monday, November 30" — a week later than Democrats had asked for in a frustrated joint letter sent to Murphy last Thursday.

The spokesperson also said that GSA will host another, "in-person-only" briefing for staff on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

In a response released Monday afternoon, the Democrats appeared to reject the offer, demanding instead that Murphy brief them by Tuesday.

"We cannot wait yet another week to obtain basic information about your refusal to make the ascertainment determination," they wrote in their latest letter.

"Every additional day that is wasted is a day that the safety, health, and well-being of the American people is imperiled as the incoming Biden-Harris Administration is blocked from fully preparing for the coronavirus pandemic, our nation's dire economic crisis, and our national security."

Under the law, Murphy has the power to free up millions of dollars that are allocated toward presidential transition spending. The transition can avail itself of those funds only after Murphy ascertains the winner of the election.

News outlets have called the election for Biden, who is projected to win 306 Electoral College votes to Trump's 232. But Trump has refused to concede the race, and instead has falsely asserted that he won. His campaign's lawyers, as well as lawyers for other supporters, have launched a flurry of lawsuits in a series of swing states, attempting — so far fruitlessly — to stop those key votes from being counted.

"Your actions in blocking transition activities required under the law are having grave effects," the Democrats wrote to Murphy in their initial letter last Thursday.

They accused the Trump appointee of "undermining the orderly transfer of power, impairing the incoming Administration's ability to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, hampering its ability to address our nation's dire economic crisis, and endangering our national security."

That letter, and the follow-up Monday, were signed by two House committee chairs — Oversight and Reform's Carolyn Maloney and Nita Lowey of Appropriations — as well as subcommittee leaders Gerald Connolly and Mike Quigley.

They have asked Murphy to reply to their latest request by 5 p.m. on Monday.

Earlier Monday afternoon, House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal issued a scathing statement of his own.

"With your refusal to abide by the procedures established by the Presidential Transition Act, you are complicit in an unprecedented challenge to our Democratic norms and are endangering the lives and livelihoods of people across the nation," Neal wrote to Murphy.

This is developing news. Please check back for updates.

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United Way Accused Of Retaliation Against Women Employees

Top photo by Peyton Fulford for HuffPost

Three former female executives at United Way Worldwide, one of the largest nonprofits in the country, say that they were retaliated against by the organization after speaking up about sexual harassment, HuffPost has learned. 

After reporting the misconduct, these women were abruptly sidelined by leadership, according to three separate claims filed in the past 18 months with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that handles civil rights claims. Two were fired. The CEO unsuccessfully pushed for the other woman’s termination. The man whom she complained about has received a promotion.

A beloved institution, recently named America’s Favorite Charity by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, United Way had an opportunity to lead the way on how to handle sexual harassment in the nonprofit sector, the women said. Instead, the organization did everything it could to bully them into silence.

One of the women, former marketing chief Lisa Bowman, filed charges in March alleging sex discrimination and retaliation. Bowman was fired in January by United Way Worldwide’s CEO Brian Gallagher, months after she made a formal complaint about the behavior of a male colleague to human resources, according to the EEOC charge.

Bowman told HR not only how this man treated her — a pattern of ogling and inappropriate comments about her body — but how he had also flirted and “stalked” a female administrative staff member at a public event, even as she was gunning for a promotion onto his team, according to the complaint.

After filing the formal complaint, Bowman’s standing at United Way began to sink. Some of the employees on her team were moved over to the alleged harasser’s team. She was still required to do the same amount of work, with fewer resources, she said. Those left on her team were burning out, she told HuffPost. In hindsight, she views this as a “deliberate” effort to get her to quit. She didn’t.

In Gallagher’s office at the beginning of 2020, the longtime CEO bluntly told her he “no longer needed her,” according to Bowman’s complaint. She burst into tears. “It was a shock. So much a piece of my identity,” she told HuffPost. “I’ve lost my job when I shouldn’t have, through no fault of my own.”

When Gallagher recruited her to United Way Worldwide in 2015 from an executive position at the shipping company UPS, Bowman, now 53, told him she wanted to spend the rest of her career at the nonprofit. “I wanted to work for an organization to make people’s lives better,” she said. “To use what I do to make a difference.”

The firing crushed her expectations and instantly changed her career plans. Now Bowman is nervous about her job prospects and still looking for work. “I feel like I had 10 years of my career stolen from me,” she said. 

Another female executive went to HR about the same man Bowman had complained about. A woman who worked for her had said that this man was flirting with her at a work event in an uncomfortable way. 

After reporting the incident, the executive also started experiencing backlash, according to her EEOC filing and an interview with HuffPost. The woman asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation.

“My whole lot changed at United Way after I went on record with that,” she said. This woman filed her EEOC charge in March, and left United Way shortly after for another job. 

In the case with perhaps the most egregious allegations, United Way’s former vice president for labor participation, Ana Avendaño, said she was fired after Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO (the largest labor organization in the U.S.), complained to CEO Gallagher about Avendaño’s work on sexual harassment within the labor movement. 

The AFL-CIO, a federation of 55 labor unions that covers nearly 13 million workers, is one of the United Way’s oldest fundraising partners, with union members donating hundreds of millions to the nonprofit every year.

Through her work, Avendaño had uncovered sexual harassment in this network, according to her complaint. Some local labor leaders were propositioning and groping female United Way workers who were hired to coordinate union fundraising. When these women spoke up about mistreatment to their local United Way leadership, their complaints were ignored or they faced retaliation, according to Avendaño’s filing.

Avendaño was trying to change this. She had addressed the issue publicly at several United Way events and at labor conferences. She reached out to these women to tell them they should not have to put up with this behavior, and advocated on their behalf. Avendaño also published articles about sexual harassment in the labor movement, and posted about it on her Facebook page. 

She believed United Way would drive the unions to do better. Instead the AFL-CIO pushed United Way Worldwide to silence her, according to her EEOC complaint filed in June 2019, which HuffPost obtained. 

“President Trumka oversees a nearly 13 million-member federation of unions that is dedicated to improving the lives of America’s workers. The task is enormous. And that’s his focus every single day, not personnel decisions at another organization,” Tim Schlittner, an AFL-CIO spokesman, said in response to questions about Trumka’s involvement in Avendaño’s situation. He did not respond to the specifics of her complaint. 

Avendaño was not able to speak directly to HuffPost about her claims against United Way. To settle her legal case, she signed a restrictive nondisclosure agreement that forbids her from discussing how she was treated there, and prevents her from disparaging the nonprofit.

But throughout her fight to address harassment within the organization, and later in her legal negotiations with the nonprofit, she confided in a friend and a trusted colleague, Linda Seabrook, the general counsel at the social justice organization Futures Without Violence. Seabrook had also cohosted conferences on sexual harassment in the labor movement with Avendaño, and was able to share Avendaño’s story with HuffPost.

“Ana’s fearless. She’s always going to be an advocate,” Seabrook said, adding that Avendaño is driven to improve circumstances for women in the workplace. “She just wants to make change.”

United Way Worldwide did not respond to any of HuffPost’s specific questions, citing an ongoing investigation by the law firm Proskauer Rose into “allegations of misconduct.” The firm is also conducting an “independent” review of the nonprofit’s policies, according to a statement from Pamela Rucker Springs, United Way’s vice president of communications. 

“United Way Worldwide (UWW) takes all workplace issues and reports of misconduct very seriously,” said Rucker Springs in an email. “Any type of misconduct is met with zero tolerance and UWW has strong policies and procedures in place to report and address this type of behavior; including protections for those who lodge complaints about misconduct.”

The charges against United Way demonstrate that three years after #MeToo got the world to listen to women about sexual misconduct, there is still a difficult road ahead for those who speak up. Seven in 10 women who report sexual harassment are retaliated against, according to a recent study from the Time’s Up Foundation.

Retaliation included being sued for defamation, losing out on promotions, and even physical harm, but its most common form was firing. This kind of blowback occurs regardless of where women are in their careers or on the socio-economic ladder — whether you’re someone like Bowman (an executive earning a high six-figure salary) or a union worker in a manufacturing plant, as Avendaño uncovered. 

“No matter how high up you can go, this can happen,” said Sharyn Tejani, the director of Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.

A Boys’ Club 

The United Way is a sprawling organization. The Worldwide office, which Gallagher runs, functions like a franchise owner, taking a cut of the money raised by the more than 1,200 local United Way branches around the world that fundraise for their communities’ specific needs.

Though the Worldwide office describes itself as a $5 billion operation, that includes money raised by all of its affiliates. Practically, the Worldwide arm had $218 million in revenue in 2018, the last year for which public information is available. That includes the locals’ fees and grants from big companies and their nonprofits. In 2018, the Pepsi Foundation gave $7 million, the Citi Foundation donated $20 million, and AT&T gave $4.6 million, according to data provided to HuffPost by Candid.org, a nonprofit that tracks philanthropic giving.

Since COVID-19 hit earlier this year, United Way has raised enormous sums to help communities around the world deal with the fallout by stocking food banks, distributing personal protective equipment, and helping parents who have children doing distance learning.

In addition to the three women who filed official complaints, HuffPost spoke to six other women who used to work at United Way Worldwide about how the nonprofit treats women. All asked for anonymity, fearing career fallout and citing United Way’s outsized influence in the nonprofit community. All of them also emphasized the importance of the nonprofit’s work and mission. 

They were hesitant to publicly criticize an organization that does so much good, but added that this reticence allows harassment and misconduct to flourish unchecked. 

“Within the United Way [network], we’re all cautious because we don’t want to harm the brand that helps people,” said one former employee. “So people have kept their mouths shut. We don’t want to cause problems for the mission.”

Under Gallagher, the 133-year-old nonprofit is run like a boys club, where women have to work harder to get ahead, those who spoke with HuffPost said. That means going along with the men, including tolerating problematic conduct, to succeed. 

Bowman, the former chief marketing officer, described the culture as “sexist.” 

“You couldn’t get opportunities. You couldn’t compete. There was favoritism,” said one woman who left United Way after working there for a decade. She recalled being told she wasn’t seasoned enough to get a promotion, only to watch a man the same age as her — with less experience — get it instead. “That’s the kind of environment it was.”  

Gallagher, who launched his career at United Way in 1981, has long presided over an old-fashioned culture, she said, echoing the comments of the other women who spoke with HuffPost.

“A lot of the old white guys, that’s been their entire career,” she said. “I don’t think they ever had a moment where it’s like, the world has moved on.”

Gallagher was working at a local United Way branch back in 1992 when the nonprofit’s then CEO William Aramony was forced to resign amid a sex and financial scandal that reads like an episode of a 1980s primetime soap opera.

“The case was a humiliation for the United Way,” the New York Times reported in 2011 in Aramony’s obituary. The disgraced CEO had stolen $600,000 from the nonprofit, and spent some of its money on an extramarital affair with a woman 42 years younger than him that included flights on the Concorde, vacations around the world, and “even a fax machine to send love notes.”

He was indicted and jailed for fraud.

Even those who criticized the culture said the United Way has moved on from Aramony’s era, and that working there taught them a lot about the nonprofit sector. One former employee told HuffPost that United Way isn’t much different than any other large organization mainly run by men.

I wish there were more women in leadership at the United Way Worldwide just like I wish there were more women in leadership at every other organization that I see,” said Nicole McNamara, who left United Way Worldwide in 2015 and said she had a great experience there. She still works with the nonprofit in a pro-bono capacity. “I don’t think this is endemic to them.”

Still, there’s a sense that it’s past time for donors to hear the truth.

Bowman said as much in a letter to several members of the United Way Worldwide board of directors in October, informing them of her charges.

“Like me, I truly believe that all of you became involved in United Way for good reasons, based in a desire to improve your communities by serving others in need,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, Mr. Gallagher’s leadership at United Way is jeopardizing those noble goals and putting your reputations — and the reputations of the companies you represent — at risk.”

As of press time, the board had not responded to her email beyond confirming its receipt.

Board members did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

‘Don’t Mess With The Unions’

Since World War II, the United Way and the AFL-CIO have run a program through which union members donate money to their local United Way directly through their paychecks. Avendaño’s job was managing the relationships between United Way and the unions, which bring in an estimated $250 million a year to local United Way branches.  

The local branches run the program by hiring “labor liaisons,” men and women who are typically union members (and part of the AFL-CIO) who help raise awareness and drum up money for the local United Way. 

A couple years into her job, Avendaño learned that female labor liaisons were getting sexually harassed by union leaders. She received a report in the fall of 2016 that a liaison from Florida resigned after being sexually harassed by a labor leader, according to her complaint. 

The woman had reported the incident to her United Way supervisor, whose only suggestion was that she work remotely. Meanwhile, her union representative accused her of having an affair with the man who harassed her, Avendaño alleges in her complaint. 

“I was shocked and appalled,” she said in her EEOC complaint. 

Avendaño convened a conference call with labor liaisons, and told them this behavior was not tolerated. She said she had their back. More liaisons came forward to tell her their own stories, the complaint said.

At the same time, Avendaño and her boss went to Gallagher to figure out what to do. He gave the go-ahead to address the issue by providing a code of conduct to local United Ways outlining what kind of behavior would constitute sexual harassment, according to the complaint.

Back then, Avendaño also reached out to the national AFL-CIO about the Florida case. She was told that there was nothing they could do. 

In response to a question about the Florida incident, the AFL-CIO didn’t address specifics. “All harassment is unacceptable and the labor movement is fully committed to eradicating it from our society, including our own ranks,” Schlittner said in an email. 

Even within the bounds of her nondisclosure agreement, Avendaño was able to talk with HuffPost about the pattern of harassment she says she found.

“These women were fundraisers and the men harassing them had control over their ability to raise money,” she told HuffPost. “They complained to their bosses or their local entities and they found nothing changed. So they turned to me at Worldwide.”

Avendaño said she worked with these women to address the issue and to raise awareness. “We learned together,” she said.

Still, Avendaño was clearly wading into treacherous waters. The AFL-CIO is a powerful and influential partner to United Way.

“You don’t mess with the unions at United Way,” one former employee told HuffPost. “That is a no-no.” Others familiar with the relationship said it was extremely important to the nonprofit. 

In Avendaño’s EEOC charge, she describes a series of talks about sexual harassment she convened or participated in, beginning in 2016, through which she drew attention to the problems faced by labor liaisons and talked more generally about sexual harassment in the labor movement, as part of her work for United Way. 

At first, the arrangement seemed to work. 

At a conference about sexual harassment hosted by United Way Worldwide and Seabrook’s organization in the fall of 2016, Gallagher gave the opening remarks, declaring the nonprofit’s commitment to taking on the issue, according to the complaint. He praised Avendaño’s work. A Canadian labor leader talked about how they handle harassment up north. The AFL-CIO adopted some of those practices, according to the complaint.

The following spring she received a $1,000 bonus and “superior” rating during her annual performance review based on that work, according to the complaint.

In August 2017, Avendaño hosted a conference bringing together labor liaisons from around the country.

Then something changed. In October 2017, the Me Too movement took off, after The New York Times published revelations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. 

As part of the fallout, many other organizations came under the spotlight, including the AFL-CIO. On Nov. 7 of that year, a Bloomberg article reported on allegations against Terry Stapleton, a Trumka aide, who was accused of sending lewd messages to a secretary. He told her he’d protect her from a round of layoffs if she’d have a sexual relationship with him, according to the report.

Stapleton was sent to mandatory training by the AFL-CIO, but then resigned months later, after Bloomberg News asked the labor organization about the allegations.

Three days after the Bloomberg story, Avendaño and Seabrook co-authored a post for a labor blog called “Top 10 Things Unions Can Do Right Now To Address Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.” This was with United Way’s backing, Seabrook said.

That same month, at another conference hosted by Futures Without Violence, Avendaño talked about the situation with labor liaisons at United Way Worldwide.

That may have been a tipping point.

In February 2018, the AFL-CIO removed Avendaño’s name from a list of people invited to a sexual harassment meeting at its headquarters, she said in the EEOC complaint. 

At that meeting, titled “Labor has a Special Responsibility to Stop Sexual Harassment.” Trumka gave a powerful speech affirming his commitment to its code of conduct and combating harassment. 

In his response to HuffPost, the AFL-CIO spokesman sent HuffPost a transcript of Trumka’s remarks.

“I’ve worked hard to get where I am today. But there is no denying I am a white man in a position of power,” Trumka said. “Social and cultural norms have been specifically enforced to benefit people like me.” He also acknowledged that labor has “been part of the problem.” 

“The sexism and misogyny in our ranks has been tolerated for far too long. Some of you have personally experienced it. The looks. The comments. The innuendo,” he said. “This old boys’ club mentality must die, and it must die today.”

After that, Avendaño was excluded from all AFL-CIO meetings on the topic, according to her complaint.

She was still speaking out about sexual harassment in the labor movement in other venues, at universities and at United Way Worldwide conferences.

In the summer of 2018, she hosted a conference that appears to have been her last for United Way that included another panel on sexual harassment in the labor movement. This appears to have set in motion her dismissal, according to the events outlined in the complaint. 

After that panel ended, United Way Worldwide CEO Gallagher got a call from AFL-CIO president Trumka, who was “upset,” according to the complaint.

Avendaño found out about the call the next day when Gallagher relayed the conversation. According to the complaint, Trumka was upset that Avendaño posted an article about him possibly endorsing President Donald Trump to her Facebook page. Trumka also said he didn’t like the title of the panel, “Sexual Harassment and the Labor Movement,” according to the complaint. 

“Trumka objected to me ‘defaming good guys who have passed through his shop’ and ‘got caught up in the #MeToo stuff,’” Avendaño said she was told. 

She offered to meet with Trumka, which wasn’t unusual; the two met often. But that meeting never transpired, according to the complaint.

“[M]onths before the emergence of #MeToo, the AFL-CIO Executive Council adopted a comprehensive code of conduct that is read at all federation gatherings and reiterates our commitment to ensuring safe workplaces, activities, meetings and events,” Schlittner, the AFL-CIO spokesman, said. He also pointed HuffPost to guidelines the AFL-CIO issued last year on how to handle harassment. 

Avendaño told HuffPost that she advocated for the creation of those guidelines.

Trumka may have been upset with Avendaño’s work, but the labor liaisons — who’d long had their complaints overlooked — were thrilled to finally have someone on their side.

After hearing Avendaño discuss sexual harassment on that first conference call in 2016, Wilder, the former United Way labor liaison in Topeka, reached out to Avendaño and told her that at fundraising events where there was alcohol, she had been groped and propositioned by a local United Way board member repeatedly over the years. He was also a member of her union (part of the AFL-CIO network) in Topeka, where she works at a manufacturing plant. 

When she’d complained about harassment in the past, union leadership offered no help, essentially telling her to deal with it herself. She kept quiet until the fall of 2016.

At a Halloween fundraising event, according to Wilder, the board member who had been harassing her actually paid a waitress $20 so he could “motorboat” her, e.g., place his mouth between her breasts and blow. The incident, widely witnessed, caused a stir. 

Wilder was asked about it by leaders at her local United Way, and revealed that this man had harassed her for years. Her local United Way said it was obligated to investigate her claim that she had been harassed by him. And even though Wilder asked to keep her name private, the branch did not. 

What happened next was a nightmare for Wilder. Word got out that she reported the board member. The backlash from her fellow union members and her local United Way was swift, she said. 

She ran into a fellow union member, who “walked by and whispered in my ear, ‘fucking cunt,’” Wilder told HuffPost. 

In 2017, when the man was kicked off the local United Way board, it was too late for Wilder, who left her position at the nonprofit.

Wilder said the one person throughout this ordeal who helped her was Avendaño. “Ana was the only person I had in my corner,” she said.

When Avendaño was fired last year, Wilder had no doubt why. “I know Ana was fired because of her work with sexual harassment,” she told HuffPost. “She has balls of steel and isn’t afraid to call people out.” 

Meanwhile At Headquarters

Lisa Bowman had spent decades in marketing, rising to the top of her profession in an executive role at UPS, where she spent 15 years. From there, she jumped to United Way Worldwide in 2015 with high hopes of spending the rest of her career at the esteemed nonprofit. 

She took a high-paying position and worked directly for Gallagher, the CEO. Her base salary the year she was fired was $305,000, plus a 15% bonus. 

The future looked bright, until the day in 2018 that she met a man brought in by Gallagher from a United Way branch to interview for a vice president position.

At the request of Bowman and the other female executives interviewed for this story, HuffPost is not publishing the vice president’s name. Their issue now isn’t with him, but with how the nonprofit handled their complaints about him, they said.

Bowman said the new VP acted strange around her from the start. At a job interview before he was hired, he looked down at Bowman, who is 5 feet tall, and sarcastically told her she was “intimidating,” Bowman said.

Afterward, Bowman told Gallagher she thought the man was “awkward,” but qualified for the job. Since he was a peer, she didn’t have decision-making capability anyway. He was hired.

From then on, he continued to comment on her appearance frequently and would look at her in a way that was creepy, she said. In meetings and conversations at work, he’d never comment on her actual work; instead, it was always something personal about how she looked.

The feeling of being objectified in a professional setting can be humiliating, especially for someone so senior. It’s a signal that your worth isn’t about your professional success or expertise but purely your looks. 

It was “degrading,” Bowman said.

“It felt really uncomfortable. It was hard to engage with him for work. I was always afraid there was going to be some comment or something,” she said. “I don’t expect any male colleague to ever be commenting on how something fits my body. I don’t think it’s appropriate.”

She didn’t formally speak to HR, though, until February 2019, when the situation reached a tipping point. The man approached her at a United Way conference and looked her body up and down. “That skirt looks great on you,” he said, according to Bowman.  

“That was the snap moment for me,” she said. 

Bowman was standing with a woman subordinate to her in the organization and felt like she needed to be a role model. “I’d been enduring comments and looks from him for a really long time, but he did this in front of other people,” she said. “It was really embarrassing for me.” 

She later sent the other woman an email saying, “I’m sorry you had to see that.”  

“She replied, ‘Oh, that’s just him,’” Bowman told HuffPost. “I said, it’s inappropriate.”

A male colleague suggested Bowman speak to HR, and she did, according to her EEOC charge. Bowman later heard from HR that the man had been spoken with.

After that, the retaliation started, according to the charge. Bowman had staff pulled off her team and moved to different roles, with some now reporting to the man she had complained about. Her team was still required to do the same amount of work, and Bowman herself was working harder than ever, but felt like she wasn’t doing well. Her performance rating was downgraded, she said in her complaint.

Bowman felt like she was being targeted and didn’t understand why. “Something had absolutely changed,” she said. 

Meanwhile, another executive at United Way headquarters had also gone to HR in February 2019 to lodge a complaint about the same man, the VP. Like Bowman, this woman said she was retaliated against for coming forward and has also filed an EEOC charge against United Way.

The executive has since left United Way Worldwide, and asked that HuffPost not publish her name out of fear of retaliation. 

She made the report on behalf of a subordinate, who had complained that the VP flirted with her and made her feel uncomfortable. United Way Worldwide’s sexual harassment policy requires supervisors to “immediately report” any potential incident of harassment, the executive said. But ultimately, the subordinate decided not to file a complaint of her own.

That makes what happened next even more stunning: Gallagher asked the executive’s boss to fire her, despite her having no performance issues, according to the charges she filed at the EEOC. When the executive’s boss asked Gallagher why, he only said that she was “bad for culture.” 

“He wanted to shut me up by getting rid of me,” the executive told HuffPost. 

United Way declined to respond to specific allegations, citing its ongoing internal investigation.

Like Bowman, this woman had planned on becoming a United Way “lifer,” spending the rest of her career there. 

She’d taken all the harassment training the nonprofit had to offer, an increasing amount in recent years, she said. When the executive brought her subordinate’s complaint to HR, she believed she was simply following the nonprofit’s rules. 

“I was all-in,” she said. “I worked my ass off. And because I did what’s right, everything changed.”

Finally, a few months after she first went to HR — and after her own boss ignored Gallagher’s order to fire her — the executive found a new job and left United Way Worldwide.

It turned out that other women had complained about the VP. In April 2019, Bowman’s then-executive assistant, a Black woman, said that she had a “creepy” encounter with the man, according to Bowman’s complaint. He had picked up one of the executive assistant’s braids and made a comment about how good her hair looked. 

Apparently, HR was conducting a full investigation into other complaints about the VP’s “inappropriate” behavior, Bowman said in her EEOC charge. (Bowman had also lodged a complaint on behalf of the woman whose hair was touched by the VP.)

That investigation came to an abrupt end, according to Bowman’s complaint, because the HR executive’s role at the organization was eliminated. 

It’s unclear if anything ever came of those complaints. The VP still works at United Way Worldwide and has been promoted at least once. 

The women who complained are the ones who are gone.

United Way declined to answer specific questions about the situation.

From Marketer Of The Year To Fired 

In January 2020, Gallagher called Bowman into his office and fired her. He said her position was no longer needed because he’d hired someone else to handle her role. And that was it. There was no other explanation, she said.

“I was beyond blindsided,” Bowman told HuffPost. “I’d never been reprimanded, fired — nothing less than a stellar review.”

Up until that point, the Bowman had had a spectacular career. Only the month before, she had been named 2019 Marketer of the Year by a national trade magazine. United Way’s chief of staff was quoted in the magazine saying glowing things about her. 

In 2017, Gallagher himself praised Bowman in print when she was awarded Nonprofit Marketer of the Year by the American Marketing Association.

“Thanks to Lisa’s vision and willingness to challenge the status quo, we’re raising our awareness, motivating more people to engage with the issues that matter to them and becoming the place people turn to create social change in the 21st century,” he said.

It took getting fired for her to get a clear picture of what changed.

“I sat back and was like, ‘What just happened’?” she said. It didn’t hit her until she sat down and sketched out the timeline. 

“Oh my god. This is retaliation,” she recalled realizing.

She got a lawyer and filed her EEOC complaint in March.

Recently, she made her case to Gallagher’s bosses, the board of directors at United Way Worldwide.

“I firmly believe my termination was a direct result of the reports of sexual harassment I made to HR,” she said, in a letter to them sent on Oct. 14 that she shared with HuffPost. 

Bowman, who lives in Atlanta, knows the risks in coming out publicly against the powerful nonprofit. But she felt compelled to speak up, she told HuffPost repeatedly. 

Please know that it was not an easy decision for me to come forward with my story, but I simply could not continue to remain silent,” she wrote to the board members. “To do so makes me also complicit. I am speaking out on behalf of all of those other employees who are too afraid or intimidated to do so.”

While the board acknowledged they received her letter, as of publication, they had not sent Bowman a substantive response.

It’s Your Tone’

Things went rapidly downhill for Avendaño, the VP for labor at United Way, after her August 2018 meeting with Gallagher about AFL-CIO chief Trumka’s complaints, according to her EEOC complaint.  

About two months later, she had a medical issue — a pinched nerve — and asked to work remotely. Instead of granting the accommodation, she was told to go home and not to work.

After intense negotiations, she was permitted to do some remote work — which was odd. According to Avendaño’s complaint, other employees frequently worked remotely without issues.  

Then, her boss, a vice president named Mary Sellers, along with an HR representative, told her that employees had complained about her attitude. There were reports she was bullying them, and Avendaño was under investigation, she was told.

“It’s your tone,” Lori Malcolm, United Way Worldwide’s chief culture officer told her, according to Avendaño’s EEOC complaint. “You are very aggressive.”  

Employees had complained that Avendaño was “reacting emotionally, angry and mean,” Malcolm told her in a subsequent conversation that is described in the EEOC filing. 

Avendaño was never provided with specifics, but defended herself, according to the complaint, admitting that at times, she could be irritable or curt — especially given her current pain issues — but she had never yelled at anyone or threatened or bullied a worker.

Until this period, Avendaño had only gotten good performance reviews, and there was no record of complaints against her at United Way Worldwide, according to her EEOC filing.

HuffPost spoke to several people who know Avendaño; they all said she is a fighter and a tough advocate, but certainly not a bully.    

Nevertheless, on a conference call with her direct boss and Malcolm on March 5, 2019, while she was still at home, Avendaño was told “there is no way back,” according to her complaint.

She was told she was fired because of United Way’s “nonviolent workplace policy.”

“I was shocked,” Avendaño said in the EEOC charge, adding that she is concerned about the reason given for her abrupt termination. After 25 years spent defending workers’ rights, being accused of bullying subordinates could be career ending.

Sellers, the vice president, did not respond to HuffPost’s interview request, nor did Malcolm. United Way declined to respond to these specific allegations.

Avendaño filed her charges against United Way Worldwide in June 2019.

“I believe I was also subjected to a discriminatory and retaliatory work environment on the basis of my gender,” Avendaño said in the complaint, “because I brought the issue of sexual harassment of women within our industry to the forefront, and was a frequent lecturer and presenter on these issues.”

This summer, the nonprofit settled her charges for $300,000 and required her to sign a nondisclosure agreement, although she remains free to talk about the pattern of labor liaison harassment she discovered.

In June, as she was negotiating the settlement with United Way Worldwide, Avendaño wrote an email to the chair of the board, a copy of which was obtained by HuffPost, protesting the “onerous” restrictions in the NDA. 

In the email, Avendaño wrote that United Way Worldwide’s response to her complaint rests on portraying her as an “angry Latina” and a “tyrannical supervisor.” 

This is “both demonstrably false and sexist,” she said. “I do not believe that the public or a jury will take well to UWW casting me in the trope of the Angry and Emotional Latina. “

Avendaño had believed that United Way would want to help with her mission to route out sexual harassment inside labor. She never dreamed it would go south the way it did, Seabrook — whom Avendaño confided in and is not bound by the NDA — told HuffPost.

“She thought United Way would step up,” she said.

Seabrook said she’d tried to talk Avendaño out of filing a case at the EEOC: Making a complaint against a big, well-funded enterprise is a challenging endeavor, she said. 

“It’s so hard. Financially. Emotionally. Professionally.”

These things usually don’t come to light — even now three years into the post-Me Too era — because of the impact cases can have on a woman’s career.

Bowman, the former chief marketing officer, said something similar. She doesn’t know what’s next for her professionally, and she knows that speaking up will have a cost.

“People will say, ‘Oh yeah, we’re not going to hire her. She ratted out her company,’” Bowman told HuffPost. “I’m a believer that you have to do the right thing.”

She Was My Protector

Not one to stay silent, Avendaño is now writing a bill — and hopes to push it through Congress — that would prohibit nonprofits from requiring victims of harassment, sex discrimination and retaliation to sign nondisclosure agreements. Part of the bill would require nonprofits to disclose to donors how sexual harassment complaints are handled.

“Speaking generally, not about any particular nonprofit, I do believe that it is highly questionable whether nonprofits should have the right to require that anybody sign NDAs,” she told HuffPost. “[T]hat shields important information from donors and others who might hold the organizations accountable.”

Wilder, the former labor liaison from Topeka, had been organizing a working group with other women focused on combating sexual harassment in the labor movement. She said Avendaño’s departure put a halt to that work. 

“I stopped that immediately. I was like, I am not going to get targeted,” she told HuffPost, adding that though United Way told her Avendaño wasn’t fired because of this work, it didn’t offer an alternate explanation. 

Wilder said there’s no way she could continue without Avendaño.

“She was like my protection. She was my great white shark. She was gone. That right there sent a very clear signal as to what happens to people that speak out.” 

Wilder pointed out that it absolutely didn’t have to end this way. The unions and United Way could’ve taken action on this issue and been leaders in making work better for women and fighting sexual harassment.

“They’re supposed to support people,” Wilder said, referring to unions and the United Way. “The working class. Well, it just depends on what your problems are.” 

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Biden inauguration will be 'scaled down' because of coronavirus, chief of staff says

  • President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration events are likely to look different from past years in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, his chief of staff said on Sunday.
  • The former vice president's inauguration is scheduled to take place amid a surge in infections across the country.
  • The change-up to the quadrennial tradition is an illustration of Biden's dramatically different approach to containing the virus from that taken by President Donald Trump.

President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration events are likely to look different from past years in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, his chief of staff said on Sunday.

Ron Klain said on ABC's "This Week" that the Jan. 20 event is likely to feature "scaled down versions of the existing traditions" and may borrow from the techniques that were used to put on the virtual Democratic National Convention over the summer.

"I think it's going to definitely have to be changed," Klain said. "We've started some consultations with House and Senate leadership on that. Obviously this is not going to be the same kind of inauguration we've had in the past."

The former vice president's inauguration is scheduled to take place amid a surge in infections across the country. The U.S. reported nearly 200,000 new coronavirus cases on Friday and more than 177,000 new cases on Saturday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Well over 1,000 people are dying a day from Covid-19.

The change-up to the quadrennial tradition is an illustration of Biden's dramatically different approach to containing the virus from that taken by President Donald Trump.

The Trump White House has largely shrugged off the contagious virus, including by holding indoor events in which officials did not wear masks. Trump, unlike Biden, frequently hosted large rallies during his campaign in which supporters gathered in close quarters for hours.

Researchers at Stanford said 30,000 cases of coronavirus and 700 deaths could be traced to 18 Trump rallies held between June and September.

While the president has taken a relatively lax approach to the disease, clusters of Covid-19 have emerged in his orbit. Trump himself tested positive in October and spent three days at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center being treated.

In all, at least 45 people connected to the White House, including Trump, first lady Melania Trump, their young son Barron Trump, and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows have tested positive for the virus. Donald Trump Jr., the president's eldest son, announced a positive test result on Friday.

Klain, a longtime Biden advisor who oversaw the Obama White House's response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak, said that the approach to the inauguration would mimic Biden and Vice President-elect Sen. Kamala Harris's cautious mode of campaigning.

"They got a lot of grief for that; they got attacked for that relentlessly by President Trump for the way in which they campaigned — safely, to try to prevent the spread of the disease," he added.

"They are going to try to have an inauguration that honors the importance and the symbolic meaning of the moment but also does not result in the spread of the disease. That's our goal," Klain said.

"We know people want to celebrate. There is something here to celebrate. We just want to try to find a way to do it as safely as possible," he said.

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Why Can Trump Try To Steal The Election? Blame The Electoral College.

President Donald Trump is trying, and failing, to steal the 2020 presidential election won by Democratic rival Joe Biden by pressuring Republican state and local officials in states Biden won to override the will of the people, block the certification of their state’s election results and name Trump the winner.

This is only possible because of the Electoral College.

In 2016, the Electoral College allowed Trump to win the presidency in spite of losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. Now Trump is attempting to use the system for a scheme to overturn his loss in the electoral vote and attack the bedrock of American democracy, the peaceful transfer of power.

The 2020 presidential election is not remotely close in the national popular vote. Biden leads Trump by nearly 6 million votes, or 3.8 percentage points. That percentage margin is the same as President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection victory and is expected to grow further as hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots in New York are counted.

The Constitution requires that the president be elected by a majority vote in the Electoral College, which awards 535 electors to states based on their number of members of Congress and three to the District of Columbia. This means that presidential elections are often fought over just a small handful of swing states where both parties just so happen to be competitive.

That handful of states in 2020 included Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin, where Biden won by a combined total of less than 50,000 votes. A reversal in those three states would have created a tie in the Electoral College, sending the election to the House of Representatives, where Trump would have prevailed even as Biden triumphed in the popular vote by millions. (The House votes by state, and Republicans control the majority of states in the chamber.)

If the election were simply a measure of popular support, it would not matter if Biden prevailed in these states. And that means that Trump would have no process to disrupt with his farcical claims of election fraud. He would also have no reason or ability to cajole, threaten or manipulate state and local officials to try to keep himself in office.

Instead, since we do have the Electoral College, Trump has abused his office in pursuit of ending American democratic elections by trying to force his officeholding co-partisans, from county elections board members to governors, to ignore the will of the people.

After two Republican officials in Wayne County, Michigan, initially refused to certify their county’s results before later reversing and certifying on Wednesday night, Trump called at least one of them to thank them for their effort. After his call, the two tried to take back their certification, but it was too late.

Instead, Trump summoned the two top Republicans in the state legislature to the White House to pressure them to hand him the state’s 16 electoral votes, even though he lost the state’s popular vote by nearly 145,000. This would not be legally possible, but it would not be happening at all were it not for the Electoral College.

Trump was also publicly pressuring Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) to refuse to certify his state’s results despite a historic statewide hand recount showed Biden to have won by more than 12,000 votes. But Kemp announced the certification of the state’s 16 electors to Biden on Friday.

These actions have exposed how the Electoral College creates choke points where a demagogic actor seeking to reject an election outcome can lean on his fellow party members to change the outcome.

Members of local or state boards of canvassers can choose not to certify an election. A state legislature or the governor can then select a slate of electors that could go against the voters’ selection. A president seeking to undermine democracy could also file lawsuits to try to drag out the certification process until the Dec. 8 deadline to submit electors to Congress, as Trump is trying to do.

None of this would be possible if the country elected the president by a national popular vote. Or at the very least it would be nearly impossible.

States would still need to certify their popular vote result and confirm that it is accurate. But any attempt to stop the certification would need to occur in a state or collection of states that could change the final popular vote margin, not just in a few states that would change the number of electors. Just four elections have been decided by fewer than 1 million votes in the past 120 years.

In this election, Trump would have had to pressure Republicans in enough states to make up a 6 million (and growing) vote deficit to somehow change those numbers, not just overcome a 50,000 vote deficit to tip results in three states.

A large majority of Americans support getting rid of the Electoral College. None of the arguments in favor of keeping it ― that evade the “it helps my party win” argument ― holds water. Trump’s abuse of the Electoral College in pursuit of ending American democracy and installing himself as ruler provides a new reason to ditch it. 

This was the third presidential election of the 21st century and the second straight to be disrupted by the Electoral College. Perhaps it’s time to treat all votes equally and let the people decide.

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Barack Obama Quit Coaching Sasha’s Basketball Team Over ‘True Washington’ Beef

Former President Barack Obama had to take a permanent timeout from coaching his daughter Sasha’s grade-school basketball team, he wrote in his new memoir “A Promised Land.”

It wasn’t because he had a country to run. It was because of something even more powerful ― parents’ complaints.

During his first term, Obama and first lady Michelle Obama supported Sasha Obama’s Vipers team at Sidwell Friends School in Washington as fans at first.

But the hoops-loving president and his aide, former Duke player Reggie Love, soon took a greater interest.

“After observing an adorable, but chaotic, first couple of games, Reggie and I took it upon ourselves to draw up some plays and volunteered to conduct a few informal Sunday afternoon practice sessions with the team,” Obama wrote in an excerpt published by The Sunday Times in the U.K. “We worked on the basics: dribbling, passing, making sure your shoelaces were tied before you ran onto the court.

“The girls seemed to have as much fun as we did,” he added.

The team won the league title, prompting the president and Love to celebrate “like it was the NCAA finals.”

The championship glow quickly wore off, however.

“Of course nothing about our lives was completely normal anymore as I was reminded the following year, when, in true Washington fashion a few of the parents from a rival Sidwell team started complaining to the Vipers coaches and presumably the school that Reggie and I weren’t offering training sessions to their kids, too,” Obama wrote.

The president told the parents that his practices were nothing special, “just an excuse for me to spend extra time with Sasha.” He even offered to help them organize practices of their own. Love, he wrote, joked that the parents “must think being coached by you is something they can put on a Harvard application.” 

Obama finally decided that it was “simpler for all concerned” to hang up his whistle and return to the stands as a fan.

Former NBA and UCLA great Bill Walton once playfully declared that Obama should be UCLA’s coach, so it’s no wonder that his school team was so successful. 

Sasha Obama, the former first couple’s youngest daughter, is now 19 and a sophomore at the University of Michigan.

“A Promised Land” came out on Tuesday.

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EU economics chief ‘worried’ about delays to coronavirus stimulus after Hungary and Poland veto

  • Hungary and Poland, who have for years been under investigation for allegedly disrespecting European values, opposed the new link and vetoed the agreement.
  • The massive fiscal stimulus is a combination of a seven-year budget made of 1.074 trillion euros and an additional buffer of 750 billion euros, which will be raised from public markets.
  • EU nations are currently facing more favorable market access conditions than earlier this year, but the longer the delay in releasing the funds the worse it will be for their economies.

LONDON — The EU's economics chief is worried that a $2 trillion stimulus plan will not be delivered as quickly as originally planned, potentially threatening a recovery in the region.

The leaders of the 27 EU member states agreed in July to borrow funds jointly, via the European Commission — an unprecedented move that ended long-standing opposition from more fiscally-conservative nations, such as Germany and the Netherlands, to commit to joint borrowing.

This deal, which encompasses investments totaling 1.8 trillion euros ($2.13 trillion), was tweaked last month to link the disbursement of the funds with commitments to the EU's core values — known as the rule of law.

However, Hungary and Poland, who have for years been under investigation for allegedly disrespecting European values, opposed the new link and vetoed the agreement.

"I am confident on the outcome, I am rather worried on the delays that, in any case, we are risking," Paolo Gentiloni, EU commissioner for economic affairs, told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" Thursday. 

The massive fiscal stimulus is a combination of a seven-year budget made of 1.074 trillion euros and an additional buffer of 750 billion euros, which will be raised from public markets. These funds were scheduled to be distributed from January onward and were welcomed by financial markets at the time of their announcement.

European nations have been significantly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, in particular highly-indebted nations such as Italy and Spain. They have struggled with combatting the economic fallout and asked for an EU-wide solution in the immediate wake of the public health emergency.

EU nations are currently facing more favorable market access conditions than earlier this year, but the longer the delay in releasing the funds the worse it will be for their economies. Certain infrastructure investments, for instance, might remain on hold until the money arrives.

"I am confident we will (overcome the impasse) in the next days or weeks. We should not have too much delay because as (ECB President) Christine Lagarde was just saying, we need a swift approval of these funds," Gentiloni also said. 

Speaking to European lawmakers on Thursday, Lagarde said the stimulus package "must become operational without delay."

A 'difficult moment'

The European Central Bank is expecting an 8% decline in gross domestic product for the euro area this year. This would be the worst contraction in the region's history.

"We are in a difficult moment because we have to decide whether the fundamental principles of rule of law are deeply rooted in our mind or not," Manfred Weber, a conservative lawmaker at the European Parliament, told CNBC Thursday.

"If you spend so much money," he said in reference to the 1.8 trillion-euro fiscal plan, "then it is our conviction that you have to link this to the fundamental basic principles of independence of judiciary and freedom of media."

The 27 European leaders will have a virtual discussion Thursday evening, but they are not expected to solve the budget impasse straightaway.

A senior EU official, who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the talks, said it is up to Poland and Hungary to explain how they want to overcome the dispute.

"It is not up to us to come up with proposals," the same official said Wednesday.

However, analysts at Gavekal Research believes the budget fight might provide some "tangible payoffs."

"A worry for investors would be the EU caving in on this fight and letting both Poland and Hungary off the leash," they said in a note on Thursday morning, adding that "this looks to be a good fight that may deliver tangible payoffs in terms of better policy outcomes."

 

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Millions Will Lose Unemployment Aid This December Unless Congress Acts Fast

Nearly 12 million workers will lose federal unemployment benefits on Dec. 26 if lawmakers fail to reach a reauthorization deal. 

At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic in March, Congress sprang into action with new unemployment programs and boosted benefits an unprecedented $600 per week. But lawmakers thought the pandemic would be under control in a matter of months, and the extra money lapsed in July. 

Now, even as COVID-19 infections spread wildly, all the other enhanced unemployment programs are set to end. The looming expiration is part of an epic year-end abyss, with an eviction moratorium, student debt forbearance and a host of tax breaks all disappearing down the hole at the same time. 

According to an estimate from The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank that has closely tracked unemployment claims this year, more than 7 million workers stand to lose the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits Congress created for Uber drivers and other gig workers without traditional payrolls who normally don’t qualify for such aid. 

Another 4.6 million workers will lose Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which was created to help the long-term unemployed who had already exhausted the 26 weeks of regular benefits most states provide. While 18 states have extended benefit programs that could cover nearly 3 million of those workers, come Dec. 26 those programs will lose federal funding and put further strain on state budgets. 

“Without unemployment benefits and with savings badly depleted, families will be at high risk for food insecurity and loss of their homes, and many may be unable to pay for health care during some of the darkest days of the pandemic,” The Century Foundation’s Andrew Stettner and Elizabeth Pancotti wrote in their analysis. “The nation’s entire economy will suffer.”

For months, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin tried to negotiate a coronavirus relief deal that would include an extension of unemployment benefits, another round of direct payments to households, and assistance for the financially-strapped state and local governments. Those negotiations collapsed shortly before the Nov. 3 election, and now it’s not clear if anyone in Washington is even trying to reach an agreement. 

President-elect Joe Biden said Monday that Congress ought to pass a comprehensive bill like the $2 trillion measure Democrats pushed through the House in October. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has called that bill a nonstarter. 

With Senate Republicans opposed to a large spending bill, McConnell has stayed out of the negotiations, instead offering up votes on a series of individual proposals, such as a $500 billion measure that would give the unemployed an extra $300 per week. Democrats say McConnell’s piecemeal approach is inadequate to the massive needs in the country.

“Cases and hospitalizations are skyrocketing, which will cause the economy to further decline over the next few months,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement. “In the face of mass death and economic devastation, Mitch McConnell is doing nothing to provide relief to American families.”

On Tuesday, Pelosi demanded McConnell negotiate. “For the sake of the country, we ask that you come to the table and work with us to produce an agreement that meets America’s needs in this critical time,” the speaker said in a letter. 

HuffPost readers: Are you receiving unemployment benefits and worried about the December 26 cutoff? Tell us about it ― email [email protected] Please include your phone number if you’re willing to be interviewed

Congress has a rich tradition of waiting until the last minute before Christmas to reauthorize extended unemployment benefits, having done so repeatedly in the aftermath of the Great Recession. In 2013, Congress finally let the benefits expire ― stranding 1.3 million workers. 

Thanks to unrelenting waves of layoffs this year, plus the expanded eligibility criteria, vastly more workers would be left hanging if Congress drops benefits in December. Some of the 7 million receiving gig worker benefits may be able to resume working right away, since they weren’t laid off from a formal job. But with the weather turning cold, coronavirus cases skyrocketing and states imposing new restrictions on commerce, it will probably be harder to make money than it was over the summer. 

Lawmakers could address the expiring provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act it passed in March (known as the CARES measure), as well as potentially other relief measures, in a funding bill that Congress needs to pass by Dec. 11 in order to avoid a partial shutdown of the federal government. The idea of tying coronavirus stimulus to annual appropriations bills has support among rank-and-file members on both sides of the aisle. But it again would require a deal among top congressional leaders that has proved elusive so far.

“I thought it might be a good idea if the leadership would follow ― if we could reach an agreement … and wrap it all in one, you create critical mass. We’re not there yet,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) cautioned in an interview on Tuesday. 

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), another appropriator, agreed. If the benefits included in the CARES Act are allowed to expire, he said, “That would be a very bad day for the country.” 

The bill would still need to be signed by President Donald Trump to become law even if Congress can somehow get it to his desk. The lame-duck president has been completely consumed with baseless election conspiracies following his loss in the 2020 race. He’s hardly been seen in public since the election and has held few official events. 

“He said he wanted to go big (with a relief bill) after the election,” Van Hollen said of Trump. “Obviously, that’s a total wildcard at this point.”

  • Here’s the latest science on COVID antibodies. 
  • How does the coronavirus spread differently than the flu?
  • What does the new CDC definition of a COVID-19 “close contact” mean for you?
  • Is it safe to see grandparents for the holidays? 
  • Therapists predict how this year will shape our mental health.

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Biden picks for senior White House staff include loyalists, rising Democratic stars

  • President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday announced his first slate of senior White House staff, choosing a mix of longtime Biden loyalists and rising Democratic stars.
  • The overall makeup of the top staff is notable for its lack of well-known progressives, suggesting that Biden intends to oversee a more cautious, traditional West Wing.
  • Jen O'Malley Dillon, who managed Biden's victorious campaign, will serve as White House deputy chief of staff.

WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday announced his first slate of senior White House staff, choosing a mix of longtime Biden loyalists and rising Democratic stars.

The overall makeup of the top staff is notable for its lack of well-known progressives, suggesting that Biden intends to oversee a more cautious, traditional West Wing than some in the Democratic Party might have hoped.

Veteran Biden advisor Mike Donilon was named senior advisor to the president. Donilon served as Biden's chief strategist during the campaign.

Jen O'Malley Dillon, who managed Biden's victorious campaign, will serve as White House deputy chief of staff.

Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond will be senior advisor to the president and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Richmond was a trusted advisor and highly visible Biden surrogate during the campaign. Insiders have described his role as similar to that of former White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, who often served as a sounding board for President Barack Obama.

Former Biden campaign chairman Steve Ricchetti will be senior counselor to the president, the Biden team announced. Ricchetti is a career Democratic political aide who served as Biden's chief of staff during the Obama administration.

But it was Ricchetti's prior work as a healthcare lobbyist that raised the ire of progressives during the Democratic primary race. They argued that Ricchetti was helping to craft healthcare policies for Biden that were too friendly to his former drugmaker clients, a list that includes Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Novartis.

Biden came under pressure following his election not to name Ricchetti his White House chief of staff. Last week, Biden announced that longtime aide Ron Klain would serve as chief of staff.

Dana Remus, a former White House deputy counsel for ethics during the Obama administration, was named counsel to the president. Remus worked at the Obama Foundation and most recently served as general counsel to the Biden campaign. There, she assembled the team of lawyers who are currently battling President Donald Trump's campaign in several state courts over voting procedures and ballot counting, part of Trump's last resort legal effort to overturn the election results.

Biden's director of intergovernmental affairs will be Julie Chavez Rodriguez, a former aide to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and the granddaughter of labor leader Cesar Chavez. Rodriguez served as traveling chief of staff to Harris during her failed presidential primary campaign in 2019, and before that worked as California state director in Harris' Senate office.

In the Biden White House, Rodriguez will oversee the administration's outreach efforts to state, county, local and tribal governments. After four years of limited interaction under Trump between the White House and state and local governments, Biden has made delivering financial aid to state and local governments a cornerstone of his plan to combat the coronavirus.

As a result, Rodriguez will likely occupy a more visible role in the White House than her predecessor, Douglas Hoelscher, did.

Annie Tomasini, a longtime member of Biden's inner circle and his traveling chief of staff on the campaign, will serve as director of Oval Office Operations. The particulars of this role have often shifted based on who is in office at any given time, but what remains the same is that it's a powerful gatekeeper position with influence over the president's daily activities.

When Trump first took office in 2017, he named his longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller to be his director of Oval Office Operations. Schiller left the administration just eight months later, but starting shortly after he left the White House, Schiller began collecting $15,000 a month, every month, from the Republican National Committee. As of Aug. 2020, campaign finance records showed the RNC had paid Schiller over $500,000 for unspecified "security services."

The Biden-Harris transition team also made two announcements about incoming first lady Jill Biden's office on Tuesday.

Jill Biden's chief of staff will be Julissa Reynoso Pantaleon, a former ambassador to Uruguay during the Obama administration and a partner at law firms Winston & Strawn.

Jill Biden's longtime aide Anthony Bernal will become her senior advisor. Bernal first worked with Jill Biden during Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, and later joined her staff in the White House. Most recently, Bernal served as chief of staff in Jill Biden's campaign office.

When Joe Biden takes office in January, Jill Biden is expected to become the only first lady ever to keep her day job as an English teacher at a northern Virginia community college.

This is a developing news story, please check back for updates.

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At least 20 arrested as pro- and anti-Trump protesters clash in Washington

WASHINGTON — Tensions flared Saturday night as supporters of President Donald Trump and his unfounded claims of voter fraud clashed with counterprotesters in the streets of the nation's capital.

Thousands of Trump supporters gathered earlier in the day to protest the result of the presidential race, marching in the afternoon from Freedom Plaza to the Supreme Court, where Republican lawmakers and party leaders addressed the largely unmasked crowd.

More from NBC News:

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By nightfall, local police officers were seen wearing riot gear, and at least one person was stabbed when a fight broke out between two large groups.

Officials with the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department said the fight was related to the ongoing protests, NBC Washington reported. The victim was listed in critical condition.

At least 20 people were arrested throughout the day, and two police officers were injured. The extent of their injuries was not immediately known. It was unclear whether the people arrested were in favor of or against Trump.

The president appeared to follow the night's developments, encouraging local police in a tweet to "get going — do your job and don't hold back!!!"

While aides say that Trump is coming around to the reality that he lost to Joe Biden, the president's public attacks on the validity of the election results and his unwillingness to concede has allowed for conspiracy theories and misinformation to fester, particularly among his most devoted fans.

"Something doesn't feel right. If we lost fair and square, we'd take it. But it needs to be verified," said Barbara Lipponen, 54, a real estate agent from Norfolk, Virginia, adding it was important to her to show up so Trump knew "he's not fighting alone."

"It doesn't add up. If he lost, then we need to say 'OK, he lost.' But this is not the process I fought for," said Charmion Prince, 48, an army veteran from Tennessee. Prince, like many other Trump supporters, said she went to bed on election night thinking the president would be re-elected. She grew skeptical of the results as more ballots were counted in the following days, putting Biden ahead.

"I saw the trends. It evaporated out of thin air in Pennsylvania," said James Dozer, 47, from Alabama. "All of a sudden at four in the morning, boom, Biden's leading. Democracies are stolen in the dead of night."

Dozer said it would take a "full hand recount" in every state for him to be "convinced" that Biden won.

Top government and industry officials said in a statement on Thursday that the 2020 election was "the most secure in American history" and that there was "no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised."

Still, thousands of protesters gathered in Freedom Plaza Saturday morning, just across the street from the White House and the Trump International Hotel, for the events, which were organized under various names including "Million MAGA March," "March for Trump" and "Stop the Steal."

Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group that Trump declined to denounce during the first presidential debate, endorsed the events. Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, one of the organizers of the deadly Charlottesville "Unite the Right" rally in 2017, also promoted the march, among other far-right figures.

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'It's time to come home' — acting Pentagon chief wants to end America's wars in the Middle East

  • In his first message to U.S. military forces, acting Pentagon chief Chris Miller said it's time to end America's wars in the Middle East.
  • "We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it's time to come home," Miller wrote.
  • The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1.57 trillion since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a Defense Department report.

WASHINGTON — In his first message to U.S. military forces, acting Pentagon chief Chris Miller said he was "weary of war" and that it was time to end America's conflicts in the Middle East.

On Monday, Miller ascended to the Pentagon's acting Secretary of Defense role after President Donald Trump's sudden termination of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

"Indeed, this fight has been long, our sacrifices have been enormous, and many are weary of war — I'm one of them — but this is the critical phase in which we transition our efforts from a leadership to supporting role," Miller wrote in an early Saturday morning message to Department of Defense employees.

"We are not a people of perpetual war — it is the antithesis of everything for which we stand for which our ancestors fought. All wars must end," he added, writing that the U.S. was "on the verge of defeating Al Qaida and its associates."

"We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it's time to come home," Miller wrote.

The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1.57 trillion since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a Defense Department report. The war in Afghanistan, which has dragged on to become America's longest conflict, began 19 years ago and has cost U.S. taxpayers $193 billion, according to the Pentagon.

Trump, who campaigned in 2016 on stopping "ridiculous endless wars" in the Middle East, took to Twitter last month to announce that American forces currently serving in Afghanistan will be home by Christmas.

At the time, it was unclear if Trump was giving an order via tweet or reiterating a long-held campaign promise in order to appeal to voters ahead of the U.S. presidential election.

Earlier this year, the United States brokered a peace deal with the Taliban that would usher in a permanent cease-fire and reduce the U.S. military's footprint from approximately 13,000 to 8,600 by mid-July. And by May 2021, all foreign forces would leave the war-torn country.

Trump has previously directed the Pentagon to reduce the U.S. fighting force in conflict zones. 

In 2018, Trump tweeted that the United States would be withdrawing troops out of Syria, a move that sent a shockwave through the Pentagon and contributed in part to the resignation of then-Defense Secretary James Mattis. Trump later reversed his decision to withdraw from Syria.

In May, Trump complained on Twitter that America's role in Afghanistan has been reduced to a "police force" and not a "fighting force."

When asked about the tweet by reporters during a White House event, Trump said that the U.S. could go back to Afghanistan if needed.

"We can always go back if we have to. If we have to go back, we'll go back, and we'll go back raging," Trump said in May.

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