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Republicans capture Virginia governorship, dealing setback to Biden

Republicans won the Virginia governor’s election and were within striking distance in New Jersey on Wednesday, a warning that President Joe Biden’s Democrats are in trouble heading into next year’s congressional elections.

Glenn Youngkin, a former private equity executive who surged in the polls in the Virginia campaign’s final weeks, beat Democratic former Governor Terry McAuliffe, CNN and NBC projected. Youngkin declared victory in a speech before ebullient supporters, while McAuliffe did not publicly concede.

Having never held elected office, Youngkin sold himself as a political outsider while seeking to rally suburban voters around hot-button issues such as how to handle the discussion of racism in schools and COVID-19 mask mandates.

In New Jersey’s closer-than-expected governor race, Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli and incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy were locked in a virtual draw, even though registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by more than 1 million. Democrats clung to hope because more votes were due to be counted in their strongholds.

The results in two states that Biden won easily last year over Donald Trump represent a dire sign for Democrats heading into the 2022 midterms, which will decide control of the U.S. Congress – and with it, the future of Biden’s policy agenda.

Polls leading up to Election Day showed that Youngkin closed the gap with McAuliffe by appealing to independent voters – a group alienated in 2020 by Trump’s style of politics but more drawn to Youngkin’s congenial manner – despite McAuliffe’s attempts to link Youngkin to the former president.

“Comparing him to President Trump really didn’t resonate with me,” Jacob McMinn, a program manager at a defense contractor, said after casting his vote for the Republican in Fairfax, just outside Washington.

White women voters, who favored Biden over Trump by one point in 2020, preferred Youngkin by 57% to 43% over McAuliffe, according to NBC’s exit polls.

Trump sought to claim credit for Youngkin’s victory.

“I would like to thank my BASE for coming out in force and voting for Glenn Youngkin. Without you, he would not have been close to winning,” he said in one of three statements about the race on Tuesday.

Youngkin, speaking in Chantilly, Virginia, early on Wednesday, called his victory “a defining moment.”

“Together, we will change the trajectory of this commonwealth,” he told the cheering crowd. “And friends, we are going to start that transformation on Day 1.”

Youngkin will succeed Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat. Under Virginia state law, governors cannot serve consecutive terms. McAuliffe, 64, served as governor from 2014 to 2018.

The Republican candidates for lieutenant governor and state attorney general were also leading their races in Virginia, while Democrats were in a tough fight to keep control of the state House of Delegates after several Republican wins. The state Senate, which Democrats control, did not have a vote.

MINNEAPOLIS POLICE

Murphy, 64, was seeking to become the first Democratic governor to win re-election in New Jersey in four decades.

He has overseen a shift to the left, including new taxes on millionaires, stricter rules on guns, a higher minimum wage and paid sick leave. He has also defended his robust approach to the coronavirus pandemic, including mandating masks in schools.

Ciattarelli, 59, a former state lawmaker, focused much of his campaign on the state’s high taxes, while accusing Murphy, a wealthy former Goldman Sachs executive, of being out of touch.

Elsewhere, Brooklyn Borough President and former police Captain Eric Adams, a Democrat, ensured he will become New York City’s second Black mayor after easily beating Republican Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels civilian street patrol.

A year and a half after George Floyd, a Black man, was murdered by a white policeman, Minneapolis voters rejected a ballot measure that would have replaced the police department with a new public safety agency.

Virginia’s race offered a preview of what may be in store in next year’s elections. Culture wars dominated the campaign, with Youngkin promising to give parents more control over how public schools handle race, gender and COVID-19 protocols, and McAuliffe vowing to protect abortion access and voting rights.

Youngkin struck a careful balance when it came to Trump, accepting the former president’s endorsement but avoiding frequent mention of him on the campaign trail. The strategy could offer a road map for Republicans trying to woo suburban moderates next year.

Youngkin leaned into the Republican Party’s expressions of outrage over the discussion of systemic racism in schools. He vowed to ban the teaching of “critical race theory,” a legal framework that examines how racism shapes U.S. laws and policies, while ignoring the fact that Virginia school officials say the subject is not taught in classrooms.

He drew sharp criticism from Democrats when he initially hesitated to denounce Trump’s insistence that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him, false claims that have continued to rile Trump’s supporters and led to a mob of them attacking the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Youngkin said later that Biden had won legitimately, but then called for an audit of Virginia’s voting machines, prompting Democrats to accuse him of validating Trump’s election conspiracy theories.

In Video: Virginia elections 2021: Blow to Joe Biden, Republican Glenn Youngkin wins Governor’s race

U.S. Senate committee approves sending subpoenas to Facebook and Twitter CEOs

WASHINGTON: The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted to subpoena the chief executives of Twitter and Facebook after the social media platforms decided to block stories from the New York Post that made claims about Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son.

The vote passed along party lines with 12 Republicans approving the motion. The 10 Democrats on the committee were not present for the session over its consideration of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination, which the panel approved.

Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham said he hoped the subpoenas would give the panel some “leverage to secure (the CEOs’) testimony” if they did not come and testify voluntarily.

The CEOs of Facebook and Twitter will testify on allegations of anti-conservative bias at a yet-to-be-determined date. The companies have come under heavy criticism from conservatives over their decision to flag the two New York Post stories as spreading disinformation and their attempts to clamp down on distribution of the stories.

The CEOs of Facebook and Twitter along with Alphabet’s Google chief will also testify in front of the Senate Commerce Committee on Oct. 28 about a key law protecting internet companies.

Republican President Donald Trump and many Republican lawmakers have continued to criticize tech companies for allegedly stifling conservative voices. Both hearings are aimed at discussing the issue.

Trump touts ‘fantastic’ TikTok deal with Walmart and Oracle

President Donald Trump said Saturday he had approved a deal allowing Silicon Valley giant Oracle to become the data partner for TikTok to avert a shutdown of the massively popular Chinese-owned video app that Washington has called a security risk.

The deal, announced by the companies, also includes Walmart as a commercial partner and would create a new US company named TikTok Global.

“I think it’s going to be a fantastic deal,” Trump said. “I have given the deal my blessing. If they get it done that’s great, if they don’t that’s okay too.”

Shortly after, TikTok — owned by China‘s ByteDance — confirmed the agreement, which came with companies racing against a Sunday deadline set by Trump’s administration after which new downloads of the app would be banned.

Oracle could buy a 12.5 percent stake in TikTok before a future IPO, and Walmart a 7.5 percent stake.

According to a source close to the matter, ByteDance would keep the rest of the shares. But since the Chinese company is 40 percent owned by American investors, TikTok would eventually be majority American-owned.

“We are pleased that the proposal by TikTok, Oracle, and Walmart will resolve the security concerns of the US Administration and settle questions around TikTok’s future in the US,” a spokeswoman for TikTok told AFP.

ByteDance also confirmed the deal on social media, saying the three companies would reach an agreement that was “in line with US and Chinese law” as soon as possible.

If it comes to fruition, the deal could mark the deescalation of a technology battle between Washington and Beijing.

It could also allow Americans to continue using the wildly popular app: the US Department of Commerce announced it was postponing the ban on TikTok downloads until September 27, citing “recent positive developments.”

Trump has claimed for weeks that TikTok is collecting user data for Beijing, without ever providing evidence for his allegations.

In early August, he gave ByteDance until September 20 to hand over TikTok’s US operations to an American company.

And on Friday, the Trump administration ordered a ban on downloads of the video-sharing app, as well as Chinese-owned messaging platform WeChat.

TikTok’s brand of short, quirky phone videos has become a global phenomenon, especially among young people, with 100 million users in the United States alone.

Trump said the “security will be 100 percent” and that the companies would use separate cloud servers.

The deal will lead to the creation of a new company, headquartered in Texas, that will have “nothing to do with China” but will still be called TikTok, according to the president.

Oracle will be in charge of hosting all US user data and the security of the associated computer systems, while Walmart will supply its online sales, order management and payment services.

In a joint statement, Oracle and Walmart said TikTok Global would “pay more than 5 billion in new tax dollars to the US Treasury,” while they and the other companies involved in the deal would launch an initiative to develop online education.

Trump, who previously said the federal government deserved a cut of the deal for authorizing it, had initially announced the companies would make a “contribution” towards education.

Under Friday’s US order against the Chinese apps, Tencent-owned WeChat would lose functionality in the United States from Sunday.

Following the TikTok-Oracle-Walmart deal’s announcement, TikTok users will be banned from installing updates starting September 27.

In response, China’s Commerce Ministry on Saturday condemned what it called US “bullying,” saying it violated international trade norms and that there was no evidence of any security threat, shortly before launching a mechanism that would allow it to sanction foreign companies.

China’s long-expected “unreliable entities list” is seen as a weapon for Beijing to retaliate against the United States, which has used its own “entity list” to shut Chinese telecom giant Huawei out of the US market, in addition to the recent moves against TikTok and WeChat.

“While the US/China tensions continue across all aspects of the technology food chain, resolving this TikTok and ByteDance standoff and complex Rubik’s Cube political backdrop is a relief for tech investors with Oracle in the winners circle,” said Wedbush analyst Dan Ives.

According to the US Treasury, the TikTok deal still needs to be finalized by the involved companies and approved by a federal national security committee.

With Trump facing a tough reelection campaign, US officials have described the measures as essential to safeguard against potential Chinese espionage through the platforms.

But Trump critics have said that while TikTok’s security risks were unclear, the sweeping ban raises concerns about the government’s ability to regulate free expression.

In Video: Donald Trump says he approves TikTok Oracle deal which may include Walmart

Honeymoon over? Saudi Arabia-U.S. ties face reset with Biden win

RIYADH/WASHINGTON: Saudi Arabia‘s crown prince enjoyed a near free pass under his personal relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump, but the kingdom’s brazen young leader will have to tread more carefully should Democrats take the White House and reset strategic ties.

Riyadh’s human rights record, with the brutal 2018 murder of Washington Post Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and detention of women activists, will be a prime point of friction with a Joe Biden administration, as will the Yemen war.

At issue for the Gulf powerhouse, which lobbied hard for Trump’s maximum pressure campaign against foe Iran, is how Biden will address Tehran’s ballistic missiles and support for regional proxies in any talks to revive an international nuclear pact with Iran that Washington quit in 2018.

While Riyadh and its Gulf allies prefer a Trump administration that also prioritised lucrative deals over human rights concerns, a Biden win would not upend decades-long alliances, five regional sources and diplomats said. Biden may, however, place stronger conditions on U.S. support, they said.

“There will be challenges but there are long-term strategic institutional relationships and no one wants to break the camel’s back, though a Biden administration will want compromises,” said one Gulf source.

A foreign diplomat in the region echoed the view that Saudi-U.S. ties would not be unduly harmed: “I imagine (Biden) would demand a few high-profile concessions … something on women’s rights defenders maybe.”

In his campaign Biden pledged to reassess ties with Saudi Arabia, an oil exporting giant and major buyer of American arms, demand more accountability over Khashoggi’s killing in Riyadh’s Istanbul consulate and end U.S. support for the Yemen war.

“Instead of giving blank checks to dictators and authoritarians around the world, as the Trump Administration has done, Joe Biden will stand up for universal values with friends and foes alike, and stand with the democratic world as we address common challenges,” a campaign spokesman told Reuters.

De facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has firmly consolidated power, crushing dissent and detaining rivals to the throne, measures that tainted a reformist image initially lauded abroad as he moved to open up the kingdom.

He has denied ordering Khashoggi’s killing, which sparked global outrage and spooked investors, but in 2019 indicated some personal accountability by saying it happened under his watch.

Riyadh jailed eight people for between seven and 20 years in the case. The kingdom’s foreign minister, in a webinar this month, said it was also reforming security services so “something like this cannot happen again”.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud though struck a defiant tone over Western condemnation of the trials of women activists, saying they are charged with “serious crimes”.

The detainees are accused of harming Saudi interests. Few charges have been made public but some relate to contacts with foreign journalists, diplomats and rights groups.

SECURITY PARAMOUNT
Trump has objected to punitive measures against Riyadh over human rights. But in April he threatened withholding military support — boosted after 2019 attacks on Saudi energy facilities — after an oil war between Riyadh and Moscow wreaked havoc on markets, threatening the U.S. oil industry.

Prince Faisal stressed that despite “occasional pergences”, the Saudi-U.S. alliance “goes much deeper than just one king or one president.”

Riyadh and its Gulf allies strongly disagreed with the Obama administration over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the 2011 “Arab Spring”, warning Washington against abandoning traditional allies and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.

State-backed media in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates recently focused on emails linked to Hillary Clinton and the Brotherhood — a move one Saudi source said aimed to show Democrats had erred and could do so again.

“There is concern that a Biden presidency would at best, mean a reduced U.S. focus on the Middle East, and at worst … a more hardline approach towards Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries,” said Abdulaziz Sager, chairman of Riyadh-based Gulf Research Center.

“There is a desire for clarity among Saudis in terms of what Biden’s concrete foreign policy would be towards Saudi Arabia.”

Gulf states are also trying to push through arms deals, with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar seeking U.S. F-35 fighter jets.

HOLDING CARDS CLOSE
The UAE has hedged its bets, reducing its military presence in Yemen and becoming the first Arab state in a quarter century to normalise ties with Israel, creating a new axis against Iran and Islamists deemed a threat to Gulf dynastic rule.

Bahrain followed suit, handing Trump a win in U.S.-brokered accords that also garnered bipartisan support.

“One of the reasons Gulf states are establishing relations is because they realised a few months ago they might not have the U.S. to rely on as in the past. Israel is a natural partner,” said a source familiar with the process.

Saudi columnist Mohammed Al Al-Sheikh, writing in local daily Al Jazirah, said this “created a new reality on the ground that candidate Biden cannot overlook” when dealing with Iran.

Donald Trump initially said the US was “locked and loaded” after the 2019 attacks on Saudi oil facilities, blamed by Riyadh and Western powers on Tehran, but a conventional military response did not materialise. The apparent attempt to avoid a war was watched closely around the Gulf.

Saudi Arabia tacitly backed the Israel deals but is unlikely to join soon given its position as custodian of Islam’s holiest sites and architect of a 2002 Arab Peace Initiative that offered Israel ties in return for Palestinian statehood.

Riyadh has said only an Israeli-Palestinian deal could deliver lasting peace and stability.

“The Saudis will probably not move to recognize Israel before the election in large part because this is a card they can play with a new Biden administration,” said David Rundell, a former chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Riyadh.

Gulf rivals are also biding time over a political row that has seen Riyadh and its allies boycott Qatar, two of the Gulf sources said, despite pressure from Trump to end the dispute.

If Trump wins, Riyadh would seek to end the row and form a united Gulf Arab front against Iran, one of the sources said. “It may not be as big an issue for Biden, but if he also pushes for it, then we’ll see progress.”