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Climate change is central to both Pope Francis and Newsom. But do Catholic voters care?

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Climate change is central to both Pope Francis and Newsom. But do Catholic voters care?

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s speech on climate change at the Vatican this week gives him an opportunity to align himself and his party with Pope Francis, an influential figure among American Catholics and a leader in the fight against global warming.

But the California governor and the pope’s messages about reducing emissions may not sway American Catholics voting in the 2024 election, especially a monumental presidential contest that could alter national and global climate policies for generations.

Despite the high importance of elections to their shared climate concerns, the issue doesn’t historically drive the pope’s Catholic flock — or typical U.S. voters — to the polls. Catholics appear poised to back Donald Trump, a president who denies global warming and has threatened to reverse environmental protections, over a climate advocate in President Biden, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

“It’s not really a top tier issue,” said John K. White, an emeritus professor of politics at Catholic University of America. “But sometimes you have to put what you see as the interests of the country, and in this case, the world, ahead of how you think it’s going to play politically.”

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Shortly before the governor boarded a plane bound to Rome on Tuesday, Newsom told reporters he plans to discuss the “leading initiatives” California has taken to address the crisis.

“No state has more to lose, not just more to gain, in terms of addressing climate change,” Newsom said at a news conference on mental health and homelessness in San Mateo County.

Pope Francis is the first pontiff to make climate change central to his papacy, and wrote a 2015 encyclical that relied on scientific facts about global warming to deliver a moral call to preserve the planet for future generations. He offered a second, more-aggressive decree last fall with another paper, called “Laudate Deum,” or “Praise God,” that challenged countries to protect God’s creation and commit to end the use of fossil fuels before it’s too late.

Pope Francis waves as he leaves after a meeting with elderly priests at the San Giuseppe al Trionfale Parish Church in Rome on Tuesday.

(Alessandra Tarantino / Associated Press)

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The pope’s climate advocacy, however, has not been fully embraced by deeply divided Catholic voters in the U.S., who vote more like the general electorate than strictly theological voters.

“They have concerns about climate, but that doesn’t rank nearly as high as the economy and they tend to be much more ethnic voters certainly than theological voters,” said Mike Madrid, a Republican political consultant based in California.

Though the pope has been critical of Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border policies, he does not formally endorse one presidential candidate over another and avoids directly meddling in U.S. elections. He influences policy through his own advocacy, such as gathering governors and mayors from around the globe to the climate summit at the Vatican this week to testify about how climate change has affected their own communities.

American bishops, as a group, are more conservative than the pope and have been active in elections. Bishops voted last year to make abortion the church’s political priority in the 2024 election. Some bishops have embraced Trump, who made good on a campaign promise to overturn Roe v. Wade.

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The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops considered voting in 2021 to refuse communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, including Biden. The Vatican warned the conference against doing so and the bishops ultimately stopped short of a ban.

A pro-Trump faction of white Catholics feels threatened by the growing power of more liberal Latino Catholics within the church and resists the pope’s more-progressive policies, White said. They also tend to care more about abortion rights.

Latino Catholics, who favor Biden by a slim margin, are more concerned about the environment than their white peers, though the economy and immigration typically rank higher than climate change, according to White, Madrid and Pew data.

“They care about feeding their kids more than they are worried about these larger global issues,” Madrid said.

The views of Catholic voters are similar to the overall electorate. In a New York Times Poll conducted in late April and early May, U.S. registered voters ranked the economy as the most important single issue in the 2024 election, followed by immigration and abortion.

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Aides to the governor say Newsom’s trip is focused on the existential worldwide environmental threat and isn’t a political calculation.

The governor is going to the Vatican as an evangelist on climate change and to testify about California’s experience and leadership, said Sean Clegg, a senior political advisor to Newsom.

“To be seen as a leader, and California is not just a national leader, but it’s really truly a global leader, you have to stand up and tell your story,” Clegg said.

Newsom’s predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, blasted former President Trump’s climate policies during a speech at the Vatican in 2017 that intentionally exposed the divide between California and the White House to the world.

Newsom is expected to call out climate skeptics and oil and gas companies that profit off the burning of fossil fuels, and demand that world leaders consider the grave implications of elections in the U.S. and abroad this year. But he is not expected to mention Trump by name in his address to the pope and international leaders.

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Newsom will undoubtedly hype the state’s climate policies, including efforts to meet the goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2045 and ambitions to phase out new gas-powered vehicles, and reference his own battles with oil companies. The governor will also offer testimony about the historic wildfires that have decimated California rural towns, floods that have ravaged picturesque coastal communities and years of drought that altered the state’s farmlands.

Outside the conference, Newsom is expected to sit down with the president of Italy and the mayor of Rome and travel to Bologna to sign a memorandum of understanding on addressing climate change. On a trip to Asia last fall, the California governor reached similar agreements with China, the provinces of Guangdong and Jiangsu, and the municipalities of Beijing and Shanghai.

For Newsom, meeting with the leader of the Catholic Church will almost assuredly enhance his national and worldwide political profile.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, in a blue shirt and baseball cap, speaks at a lectern.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a news conference Tuesday in San Mateo. Under mounting pressure to address the growing homelessness crisis in California, Newsom announced that his administration will make $3.3 billion available ahead of schedule for counties and private developers to start building more behavioral health treatment centers as part of his efforts to fund housing and drug use programs.

(Haven Daley / Associated Press)

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The pope enjoys a 75% approval rating among U.S. Catholics and — whether it’s discussing Gaza, Ukraine or the environment — his voice extends beyond the church.

Pope Francis called out the U.S. in his “Laudate Deum” letter last fall, pointing out that its emissions per individual are about two times greater than China‘s and about seven times greater than the average of the poorest countries in the world, said Mary Novak, executive director of the nonprofit NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice.

Newsom’s trip to the Vatican also gives him a chance to promote the state’s environmental agenda just days after he announced a proposal to reduce spending on climate change in California by $3.6 billion to close a budget deficit.

Being seen as a leader on climate in a country that the pope has criticized could benefit the governor. Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healy and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu are also attending the conference.

“These are leaders who have been fighting climate change and [for] the transition to a clean energy economy for a very long time,” Novak said.

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She added that it’s smart for the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to invite leaders who can address climate change in their own states and communities to the conference, which is geared around slowing global warming and reducing emissions but also adapting to the reality of rising seas and hotter temperatures.

Newsom’s visit could deepen his standing with climate activists and young people, who care more about the environment than their parents.

“Being seen with the pope is still beneficial,” White said. “The Holy See is an important player on the world stage, not only in climate change, but also in diplomacy.”

Times Staff Writer Anabel Sosa contributed to this report.

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Hunter Biden attends pre-trial hearing in Delaware court on federal gun charges

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Hunter Biden attends pre-trial hearing in Delaware court on federal gun charges

Hunter Biden arrived at a Delaware court just before noon Friday for a pre-trial hearing on federal gun charges, after multiple failed attempts by the first son to have charges brought against him dismissed. 

Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty to federal gun charges in the U.S. District Court for Delaware, after Special Counsel David Weiss charged him with making a false statement in the purchase of a firearm; making a false statement related to information required to be kept by a licensed firearm dealer; and one count of possession of a firearm by a person who is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance. 

Judge Maryellen Noreika will preside over the trial, which is set to begin on June 3. 

HUNTER BIDEN PLEADS NOT GUILTY TO FEDERAL GUN CHARGES OUT OF SPECIAL COUNSEL DAVID WEISS’ PROBE

With all counts combined, the total maximum prison time for the charges could be up to 25 years. Each count carries a maximum fine of $250,000, and three years of supervised release. 

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According to the indictment, Hunter Biden bought a Coldt Cobra revolver on Oct. 12, 2018, and “knowingly made a false and fictitious written statement, intended and likely to deceive that dealer with respect to a fact material to the lawfulness of the sale of the firearm… certifying he was not an unlawful user of, and addicted to, any stimulant, narcotic drug, and any other controlled substance, when in fact, as he knew, that statement was false and fictitious.” 

Hunter Biden departs a House Oversight Committee meeting at Capitol Hill on January 10. On Friday, a judge denied a motion to throw out a federal gun case against him.  (Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)

HOUSE GOP CLAIMS HUNTER BIDEN LIED UNDER OATH MULTIPLE TIMES DURING CONGRESSIONAL DEPOSITION

The indictment also charges Hunter Biden for possessing that firearm — which was “shipped and transported in interstate commerce” — for nearly a week despite being addicted to narcotics.

Fox News first reported in 2021 that police had responded to an incident in 2018, when a gun owned by Hunter was thrown into a trash can outside a market in Delaware.

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A source with knowledge of the Oct. 23, 2018, police report told Fox News that it indicated that Hallie Biden, who is the widow of President Biden’s late son, Beau, and who was in a relationship with Hunter at the time, threw a gun owned by Hunter in a dumpster behind a market near a school.

HUNTER BIDEN TAX TRIAL POSTPONED TO SEPTEMBER

Hallie Biden may be required to testify during Hunter Biden’s trial. 

A firearm transaction report reviewed by Fox News indicated that Hunter purchased a gun earlier that month.

On the firearm transaction report, Hunter answered in the negative when asked if he was “an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance.”

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Hunter was discharged from the Navy in 2014 after testing positive for cocaine.

Meanwhile, Weiss also brought federal tax charges against Hunter Biden in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. 

IRS WHISTLEBLOWER SHAPLEY SAID HE ‘COULD NO LONGER PURSUE’ HUNTER BIDEN SUGAR BROTHER KEVIN MORRIS DUE TO CIA

Biden pleaded not guilty to those charges — specifically, three felonies and six misdemeanors concerning $1.4 million in owed taxes that have since been paid. Weiss alleged a “four-year scheme” when the president’s son did not pay his federal income taxes from January 2017 to October 2020 while also filing false tax reports. 

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On Wednesday, Judge Mark Scarsi heard arguments during a pre-trial hearing in California. That criminal trial was scheduled for June 20, but Hunter Biden’s attorneys requested to delay the trial. 

Scarsi sided with Hunter Biden’s attorneys, and moved the tax trial from June 20 to September 5, when jury selection will begin. 

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Granderson: Bring on the cannabis cafes, California. Our nation needs them

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Granderson: Bring on the cannabis cafes, California. Our nation needs them

More Americans now consume marijuana on a daily basis than drink alcohol every day, according to a recent study.

That’s welcome news for an industry that has been unfairly demonized by opportunistic politicians since the days of Nixon. The findings — based on data gathered between 1979 and 2022— are consistent with the wave of decriminalization under state laws, notably with California’s Proposition 215 back in 1996.

Opinion Columnist

LZ Granderson

LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in America.

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After the election that year, a law professor at Loyola was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying “this may be the baby boomers taking control.”

It wasn’t the boomers prevailing, but pragmatism.

About 1.3 million people in the U.S. are in state prisons. The most common reason for incarceration? Drug-related crimes. Given how much the country with the highest prison population loves pot, it makes sense to stop throwing people in jail for doing weed.

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Today the only states where cannabis is totally illegal are Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina and Wyoming. Earlier this month President Biden announced plans to reclassify pot as a less dangerous drug.

In short: “Just say no” is dead. Long live “pass the dutchie ’pon the left-hand side.”

The next important step in having policy actually reflect society would be for Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign the “munchie bill” that’s likely to be headed his way soon.

Last year Assembly Bill 374 — which would make it legal for dispensaries to become cafes and offer food as well as host live events — passed the Assembly 66-9 and the Senate 33-3.

Surprisingly, Newsom vetoed the bipartisan bill in October, citing concerns about providing a smoke-free work environment for employees. That seems nonsensical, considering that it is already legal to consume marijuana in California dispensaries. AB 374 would have just made it possible to buy a bag of chips while you do it.

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Marijuana cafes have existed in Amsterdam since the 1970s. Last summer I spent a few hours listening to music and eating homemade desserts at the first marijuana cafe in North America. Fittingly called New Amsterdam Cafe, the popular hangout opened in Vancouver in 1998 and is as chill as Issa Rae’s Hilltop Coffee.

However, vibes are not the only reasons Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) introduced AB 374. For him it’s also a matter of fairness and trying to level the playing field.

“Small businesses have to follow every rule, and yet you’re telling them they can’t adapt and innovate and offer something people want,” he said. “The ones who follow the rules should be able to offer an experience. People pay a lot to sit in a winery. We have cigar lounges. This is really no different.”

Despite law enforcement’s best efforts, illegal pot is estimated to have pulled in more than $8 billion in 2020 compared with $4 billion for legal. However, it’s the small-business owners who also have the burden of taxes, regulations and fines. All of which eats away at profits and businesses’ ability to grow. Haney said his proposal not only would allow small business owners to diversify their income stream, but also would encourage people to come out of their post-pandemic cocoons and socialize again.

California began liberating cannabis culture in 1996. It’s only right the state continues to correct a narrative that was born not from science but from President Nixon’s prejudice. It’s because of that cloud hanging over cannabis that advocates of decriminalization had to sweeten the deal for voters by promising a financial windfall for the state, which of course is why legal pot is ridiculously overtaxed.

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Haney said he knows the cafes won’t solve all of the problems that dispensary owners face because of competition from the black market, but it would at least provide owners with more ways to make money. Haney said he worked with both Newsom’s office and the Department of Cannabis Control before reintroducing the bill. He said the new version, AB 1775, addresses the governor’s concern for the work environment, and it also has union support. It recently passed the Assembly 49-4 and is headed to the Senate.

My hope is that the munchie bill meets Newsom’s approval. With proper ventilation for employees and customers alike, marijuana cafes could provide local artists with new venues and add another branch of tourism.

“I’m one of the younger legislators, and I see how excited my friends are,” 42-year-old Haney told me. “I have a couple of colleagues who represent suburban districts and one came to me and said, ‘All the suburban moms are excited about your cannabis cafe bill.’ Post-pandemic, it’s been hard to get people to get out, and I think this just makes sense.”

It really does.

@LZGranderson

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Trump’s Pattern of Sowing Election Doubt Intensifies in 2024

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Trump’s Pattern of Sowing Election Doubt Intensifies in 2024

Former President Donald J. Trump has baselessly and publicly cast doubt about the fairness of the 2024 election about once a day, on average, since he announced his candidacy for president, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

Though the tactic is familiar — Mr. Trump raised the specter of a “rigged” election in the 2016 and 2020 cycles, too — his attempts to undermine the 2024 contest are a significant escalation.

A line chart shows the number of times Donald J. Trump cast doubt on the fairness or integrity of the election during the 2016, 2020, and 2024 election cycles. The line for 2024 shows that Trump started casting doubt months earlier during this election cycle and has made hundreds more statements than in past elections. Three videos on the chart show early instances of Trump casting doubt, in 2016, 2019 and 2022.

Mr. Trump first raised questions about the 2016 election in August of that year, about 100 days before the election.

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He did so earlier — and more frequently — before the 2020 election.

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But in the 2024 cycle, the falsehoods have been baked in since Mr. Trump announced his candidacy, almost two years before Election Day. They show no signs of subsiding.

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Mr. Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election had historic consequences. The so-called “Big Lie” — Mr. Trump’s false claim that the election was stolen from him — led to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the United States Capitol and two of four criminal indictments against Mr. Trump, as well as his second impeachment.

But Mr. Trump had planted seeds of doubt among his followers long before Election Day, essentially setting up a no-lose future for himself: Either he would prevail, or the election would be rigged.

He has never given up that framing, which no evidence supports, even well after the end of his presidency. And as he seeks to return to the White House, the same claim has become the backbone of his campaign.

Long before announcing his candidacy, Mr. Trump and his supporters had been falsely claiming that President Biden was “weaponizing” the Justice Department to target him. But it took until March of last year for Mr. Trump to settle on a new accusation: that the multiple legal challenges related to Mr. Trump’s business and political activities constituted a “new way of cheating” in order to “interfere” in the 2024 election. He has made versions of that accusation more than 350 times.

“This is a rigged deal, just as the 2020 election was rigged, and we can’t let them get away with it,” Mr. Trump said on Nov. 18, 2022, three days after announcing his 2024 candidacy. His comments were in response to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland’s appointment of a special counsel to supervise the Justice Department’s criminal investigations related to the events leading up to the Jan. 6 riot and Mr. Trump’s decision to keep classified documents at his Florida resort.

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By last summer, Mr. Trump had honed the language and made it a staple of his stump speech: “They rigged the presidential election of 2020, and we’re not going to allow them to rig the presidential election of 2024.”

The Times has documented more than 500 campaign events, social media posts and interviews during the 2024 cycle in which Mr. Trump falsely accused Democrats or others of trying to “rig,” “cheat,” “steal” or otherwise “influence” the next election — or of having done so in 2020.

‘Election interference’ is Trump’s choice accusation in 2024 cycle

Mr. Trump has adapted the specifics of his accusations with each of the three election cycles. But in each case, his pattern of discourse has followed the same contours. He sows doubt about the legitimacy of the election, and then begins to capitalize on that doubt by alluding to not necessarily accepting the election results — unless, of course, he wins.

This rhetorical strategy — heads, I win; tails, you cheated — is a beloved one for Mr. Trump that predates even his time as a presidential candidate. He called the Emmy Awards “a con game” after his television show “The Apprentice” failed to win in 2004 and 2005. And before he officially became the Republican presidential nominee in 2016, he began to float the possibility that the primary contest was, as he said, “rigged and boss controlled.”

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By May of that year, Mr. Trump spoke plainly about why he had stashed the argument away. “You’ve been hearing me say it’s a rigged system,” he said, “but now I don’t say it anymore because I won.”

Late that summer, with his sights set on the November general election, Mr. Trump tested out a new line, contending that “the media” was “rigging” the election in favor of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee. His assertions intensified in October after a recording surfaced of him speaking in vulgar terms about women.

“I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election — if I win,” Mr. Trump said at a rally in 2016, three weeks before Election Day. And though he would end up winning the Electoral College and the presidency, his failure to secure the popular vote led him to form a Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to “prove” that rampant voter fraud was to blame.

In December 2019, well into Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign, the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives impeached him, saying he used the levers of government to solicit election assistance from Ukraine in the form of investigations to discredit Mr. Biden. Mr. Trump subsequently said that Democrats were using the “impeachment hoax” to “interfere” in the election.

The Covid-19 pandemic gave him a new rallying cry, centered on election integrity: Mail-in ballots were “dangerous,” “fraught with fraud” and were being used to “steal” and “rig” the election, he said.

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About six weeks before Election Day in 2020, Mr. Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power. “We want to make sure that the election is honest, and I’m not sure that it can be,” Mr. Trump said.

This time, it was half a year before Election Day 2024 — and after more than a year of pushing the “election interference” line about the criminal charges against him and repeatedly warning that Democrats are “cheating” — that Mr. Trump again placed conditions on his acceptance of election results.

“If everything’s honest, I’ll gladly accept the results,” he said in a May 1 interview with The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “If it’s not, you have to fight for the right of the country.”

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