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Mayors London Breed and Karen Bass take different approaches to homelessness and drug use in their cities

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Mayors London Breed and Karen Bass take different approaches to homelessness and drug use in their cities

Karen Bass and London Breed each made history when they were elected, shattering glass ceilings in their respective cities as the first female mayor of Los Angeles and first Black woman to lead San Francisco.

They share many other similarities as powerful Democrats leading California’s marquee cities: a promise to reduce homelessness; plans to mitigate an opioid overdose crisis; an electorate concerned about crime.

But the ways the two mayors are attacking those urban problems reveal some surprising differences between them.

Breed, 49, has backed a tough-on-crime statewide ballot initiative that Bass, 70, does not support. The San Francisco mayor has also worked to toughen criminal penalties for fentanyl dealers and require drug screening and treatment for certain welfare recipients — issues the Los Angeles mayor has not weighed in on with financial assistance overseen by the county.

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And they are split over a high-profile Supreme Court case that could make it easier for cities to clear homeless encampments: Breed has welcomed the high court’s review while Bass warned against a ruling that “could embolden those who wish to criminalize unhoused Angelenos.”

“Homelessness is the reason I ran,” Bass said during a discussion Monday at the civic engagement cafe Manny’s in San Francisco. “The main thing is getting people off the street ASAP because people are dying. But the problem in L.A. is the massive numbers.”

It was the first time the two mayors came together publicly for a one-on-one conversation. They discussed the challenges they face leading California’s most famous and influential cities.

“Homelessness is the reason I ran,” Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said.

(Josh Edelson / For The Times)

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About 46,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles, where the population is about 3.8 million. An estimated 8,323 people are homeless in San Francisco, a city of about 808,000.

Breed said the problem in San Francisco is “a little bit different.”

Though the city has increased shelter capacity and helped 15,000 people exit homelessness, Breed said, the city faces a conundrum: The number of people who refuse housing or shelter is growing.

“The biggest problem is fentanyl, is drugs,” she said. “That has been the biggest challenge we’ve had to get people off the streets.”

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Political differences in L.A. and S.F.

Breed and Bass are at different points in their mayorships, which may explain some of their divergence on policy. After six years leading San Francisco, Breed is up for reelection this year in a tough race against four serious challengers.

In contrast, Bass, who referred to herself as a “rookie” Monday, is still in a honeymoon phase after winning the election in November 2022.

“There seems to be this kind of doomy narrative in San Francisco that I don’t feel is quite as front of mind for Angelenos,” said Jason Ward, an economist at Rand Corp. in Santa Monica.

Mayor London Breed seated and holding a microphone

Mayor London Breed has supported some tough-on-crime strategies to address street homelessness and open-air drug use in San Francisco.

(Josh Edelson / For The Times)

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As Breed’s political challenges have mounted in the last two years, she has turned to tough-on-crime strategies to crack down on street homelessness, open-air drug use and other public safety issues she once described in a speech as the “bull— that destroyed our city.”

Bass has sought a compassionate approach to homelessness without losing the support of the business community, a strategy that’s drawn praise and criticism. She has not given an endorsement in the heated L.A. district attorney race, which pits a so-called law and order candidate against the progressive incumbent.

In some instances, the two politicians are bringing the same blueprint to solving their cities’ problems.

Breed declared a state of emergency in December 2021 for the drug-infested Tenderloin district, with Bass following suit a year later with her own emergency declaration on homelessness. Both efforts aimed to make it easier to get people off the streets and increase access to resources.

Both mayors have rejected calls to roll back funding for police, even adding money for law enforcement in their city budgets, despite objections from some left-leaning voters. And they’ve each focused much of the last year on addressing homelessness via temporary shelter beds, while also putting money toward addiction and mental health services.

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But it’s their policy differences that illustrate the varied ways civic leaders are trying to solve some of California’s thorniest problems.

“This is the nice thing about more and more women getting into elected life,” said Elizabeth Ashford, a Democratic strategist and board member of California Women Lead, an organization that works to elect more women. “People are going to have to rise and fall based on their own merits as leaders.”

As Black women, both mayors said their identities shape their experiences as politicians.

Bass said L.A.’s Black population is “quite small” at about 8%, and because of that she believes people misjudge her.

“I don’t mind being underestimated,” she said. “They won’t see it coming!”

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London Breed and Karen Bass seated in front of an audience

San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass discuss their cities’ challenges at Manny’s cafe in San Francisco.

(Josh Edelson / For The Times)

Breed echoed those same hurdles leading San Francisco, where the Black population is less than 5%.

“I’ve had to have some really hard conversations with a lot of very privileged people in this city who feel comfortable talking to me as if I’m beneath them,” Breed said.

“As African American women leading major cities, it’s different. Everybody wants the mayor to do a good job, but sometimes the challenges we face are different.”

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Different approaches to fighting crime

Breed earlier this year endorsed a GOP-backed measure proposed for the November ballot that aims to roll back part of Proposition 47, a 2014 voter-approved initiative that reduced certain theft and drug felonies to misdemeanors. The measure would increase penalties for fentanyl dealers and organized retail theft rings, and provide mandatory treatment for drug users.

Bass said she doesn’t support efforts to repeal Proposition 47.

She said in a statement to The Times that the law “has its strengths and weaknesses and it should be evaluated in the same way that the impacts of any policy should be examined,” though her office didn’t make clear how she thinks the policy should be analyzed.

The mayors’ approaches “couldn’t be more different,” said Anne Irwin, director of Smart Justice California, a group that advocates for progressive changes to the criminal justice system.

Bass has “taken the lessons from the tough-on-crime era and accepted the hard truth that it didn’t work,” Irwin said. Breed, she said, has reverted to a “familiar political rhetoric” that appeases voters in the short term but fails public safety in the long haul.

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“That’s why I call it an easy, expedient response,” Irwin said. “But that’s not leadership.”

While Irwin acknowledged that many San Franciscans want to see a tougher approach on public safety issues, she attributed waning voter support for Breed to what she described as an inconsistent and chaotic approach to solving those problems.

“San Franciscans are watching Mayor Breed over these past several years lurch from one approach to another based on the loudest headlines that week,” Irwin said.

Protesters hold signs, including a sign that says, "Stop cuts to food"

People outside the event protest budget cuts Mayor London Breed has proposed in San Francisco, including funds for child-care programs and food banks.

(Josh Edelson / For The Times)

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To Breed’s supporters, she is making tough decisions for a city she loves.

Breed grew up in the Western Addition, raised by her grandmother in a tough childhood defined by poverty, gang violence and street crime. She has shared the story of losing a sister to a drug overdose nearly 20 years ago, and her brother has served more than two decades in prison for armed robbery and other charges.

“London Breed has a ton of experience being exposed to that kind of a life, and I would think that she has reacted in the way she should for the safety of her citizens,” said former Mayor Willie Brown, who made history himself as the first Black mayor of San Francisco and, before that, as speaker of the state Assembly. “And that’s what would be expected of a mayor.”

Bass has spent much of her time in office so far as she promised on the campaign trail — almost exclusively focused on homelessness. Under Bass’ Inside Safe program, which places homeless people in hotels, motels and other forms of shelter, 2,720 people have been moved from street encampments, according to officials.

She also issued an order that has dramatically sped up the city’s approval of residential projects deemed 100% affordable. In April, she said that more than 16,000 affordable housing units had entered the city’s pipeline.

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Bass was raised in the Venice-Fairfax area of Los Angeles, and was volunteering for Sen. Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign by age 14.

She founded Community Coalition, a nonprofit focused on tackling the structural racism that led to neglect in South L.A. A former emergency room physician assistant, she served more than a decade in Congress before being elected mayor.

She has sought to walk a fine line between helping people get into shelters and housing and responding to complaints from businesses and neighbors about tents and drug use.

She has mostly stayed out of the debate over a policy that gives council members the option to bar homeless encampments within 500 feet of schools and parks. The law is attacked by the most left-leaning members of the City Council, who decry it as a waste of police resources.

Bass, in interviews, has suggested that the law simply shuffles homeless encampments around, but said she won’t seek to repeal it.

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The way the two mayors are responding reflects the frustrations in their respective cities, said Sam Tsemberis, chief executive of the Pathways Housing First Institute in Santa Monica.

“It comes down to personal attitudes and values,” Tsemberis said. “And also for the politicians, what will play well in terms of the likelihood of their reelection.”

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President Biden had front row seat to dog, Commander, repeatedly biting Secret Service agents: report

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President Biden had front row seat to dog, Commander, repeatedly biting Secret Service agents: report

President Biden reportedly witnessed multiple attacks by Commander, his ferocious dog, to U.S. Secret Service (USSS) personnel – with one urging the use of a muzzle, newly released records show.

Correspondence, obtained by Judicial Watch, set the scene of life with Commander Biden – which included trips to the ER and the tailor.

Multiple USSS personnel shared that the attacks happened as Biden was walking the dog, with the president witnessing the incidents first-hand.

RECORDS SHOW BIDEN DOG, COMMANDER, ATTACKED SECRET SERVICE MEMBERS AT LEAST 24 TIMES

Commander, the dog of U.S. President Joe Biden, looks on as Biden departs on the south lawn of the White House on June 25, 2022, in Washington, D.C.  (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

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Bite marks by Commander Biden in suit jacket

The Biden family dog, Commander, repeatedly attacked U.S. Secret Service agents.  (Judicial Watch via U.S. Secret Service)

Other emails shared by staff suggested that the First Family purchase a muzzle for the German Shepherd. 

“TMZ just reported a dog bite at the White House! Can we please find a way to get this dog muzzled?” personnel from the U.S. Secret Service Safety, Health & Environment Division wrote in an email.

One Secret Service member shared that his encounter with Commander happened on Sep. 13, 2023, while Biden was taking his dog to the Kennedy Garden for an evening walk.

“As I started to walk toward him to see if he needed help, Commander ran through his legs and bit my left arm through the front of my jacket,” the USSS agent wrote. “I pulled my arm away and yelled, ‘No’. POTUS also yelled [redacted] to Commander. POTUS then [redacted]. I obliged and Commander let me pet him.”

BIDEN’S DOG, COMMANDER, TERRORIZED SECRET SERVICE IN ‘EXTREMELY AGGRESSIVE’ RAMPAGE: EMAILS

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“When turning to close the door, Commander jumped again and bit my left arm for the second time. POTUS again yelled at Commander and attached the leash to him,” he added. “My suit coat has 3 holes,1 being all the way through. No skin was broken. “

Commander Biden

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden, sit with their new dog Commander at the White House in 2021. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Other correspondence includes a sergeant writing in an email, “there was a dog bite and the officer may need to go to the hospital.”

In other email correspondence, Anthony Guglielmi, the Chief of Communications for the United States Secret Service, wrote of another interaction with Commander.

“Yesterday, around 8pm, a Secret Service Uniformed Division police officer came in contact with a First Family pet and was bitten,” Guglielmi wrote. “The officer was treated by medical personnel on complex, and I am not aware of any hospitalization.”

Bite marks by Commander Biden in suit jacket

Judicial Watch obtained images from the U.S. Secret Service of bite marks on their suit jackets. (Judicial Watch via U.S. Secret Service)

On Sept. 26, 2023, a series of media outlets reached out to Guglielmi to confirm reports of an additional bite on a female USSS officer.

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BIDEN’S DOG MAJOR BITES ANOTHER WHITE HOUSE EMPLOYEE

Bite marks by Commander Biden in suit jacket

Puncture marks in a U.S Secret Service member’s coat jacket. (Judicial Watch via U.S. Secret Service)

The latest information on Commander’s biting habits came after a previous report that the German shepherd bit and attacked at least 24 USSS personnel between October 2022 and July 2023.

Incidents with the dog began to stack up, with family pet altercations taking place in locations such as the White House, Wilmington, Delaware, Camp David, and Biden’s beach house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

biden's dog commander

President Biden’s dog, Commander, a German shepherd, sits on the Truman balcony of the White House, Sept. 30, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Commander’s arrival at the White House came after the Biden’s got rid of their prior dog, Major, who also behaved aggressively, including biting Secret Service and White House staff.

 

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Commander eventually left the White House to live with other family members after the series of attacks.

Fox News Digital has reached out to the Office of the First Lady for comment.

Fox News Digital’s Greg Wehner contributed to this report.

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Top manager of California's largest water supplier accused of sexism and harassment

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Top manager of California's largest water supplier accused of sexism and harassment

The board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California voted to place General Manager Adel Hagekhalil on leave Thursday while the agency investigates accusations of harassment against him by the agency’s chief financial officer.

Chief Financial Officer Katano Kasaine made the allegations in a confidential letter to the board, which was leaked and published by Politico. She said Hagekhalil has harassed, demeaned and sidelined her and created a hostile work environment.

MWD Board Chair Adán Ortega Jr. announced the decision after a closed-door meeting, saying the board voted to immediately place Hagekhalil on administrative leave and to temporarily appoint Deven Upadhyay, an assistant general manager, as interim general manager.

“This board is determined to act with unity and swiftness in order to protect everybody,” Ortega said. “My hope is that under Deven’s leadership in the coming months, that we will find some common purpose, that we will realize the urgency of the policies and the tasks that confront us.”

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Ortega said in an interview after the meeting that there are “several investigations” underway. He declined to comment on the other investigations, and said Hagekhalil will be on administrative leave for up to 90 days.

“We’re calculating that that’s the amount of time it will take to complete the investigations,” Ortega told The Times.

Ortega began the meeting by announcing that the board had decided earlier this week to open an investigation. He called a vote allowing him to publicly discuss confidential matters discussed during that Tuesday meeting, and he criticized the release of the letter.

“The person who released this sensitive document knows that we as a board and as individuals are constrained by law not to reveal closed-session proceedings and related documents,” Ortega said. “They were trying to take advantage of that. But I’m not letting them. At minimum, by releasing the document, that person has tried to set a narrative that is potentially harmful to the general manager, the chief financial officer, this board and this agency, and they know it.”

Ortega said the board acted to start the investigation “in order to avoid the leak that happened anyway.” He said he and other board members believe that both Hagekhalil and Kasaine “deserve the due process prescribed by law.”

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Thursday’s special meeting was scheduled while Hagekhalil was traveling in Singapore for a water conference. According to the board meeting agenda, the closed session included a review of Hagekhalil’s performance as well as a discussion of potential discipline or dismissal. On those two items, Ortega said, there were “no reportable actions” during the closed meeting.

Board members voted unanimously to place Hagekhalil on administrative leave, with one abstention and several board members absent.

Kasaine said in her letter that throughout 30 years of government work, “I have encountered toxic work environments, but none as hostile and dysfunctional as Metropolitan.”

“Despite my tireless dedication and outstanding performance ratings, it has become incredibly stressful to even show up for work. I am constantly scrutinized, sidelined, and demeaned for standing up against issues that are not in Metropolitan’s best interest,” Kasaine said in the May 27 letter, which following the leak was released by the district.

Hagekhalil responded to the accusations in a text message, denying any wrongdoing.

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“I’ve always treated our MWD staff with complete respect, professionalism and kindness. Always,” Hagekhalil said. “I stand by my record of reforming the agency’s workforce policies and creating a healthy, supportive and inclusive work environment. Any investigation of these unsubstantiated claims will reveal that they are false, and I look forward to returning to my work at MWD to serve our staff and our community as soon as possible.”

He said the claims are “disagreements on management decisions.”

“When I started at MWD, I increased Katano’s responsibilities on an interim basis, and as CFO, she has had an important leadership role in recent MWD actions, including overseeing the agency’s adoption of a two-year budget and development of a long-range financial plan,” Hagekhalil said.

MWD is the nation’s largest wholesale supplier of drinking water, serving cities and agencies that supply 19 million people across Southern California.

Ortega lamented that with the release of the letter, “the confidentiality that they were to enjoy in order to correct matters, has now been compromised for the benefit of an undeclared individual who, depending on our silence, thought that they could deceive the press.”

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“Thus, the person who released the document should not be considered a whistleblower, but should be questioned by those listening to him or her about their motives and the personal gain they would like to achieve by violating the rights of others and trying to taint our agency,” Ortega said, reading from a prepared statement. “While I can’t reveal the extent of our continuing deliberations today, or guarantee outcomes, on behalf of the board, I want to assure our workforce that we will continue to act in a transparent way to bring security, harmony and protection of rights for everyone who works here so we can do the work of bringing water to Southern California.”

Several people spoke at the meeting, expressing support for Hagekhalil and calling for a fair and impartial investigation.

“Due process has been tainted in a major, major way,” said Mark Gold, director of water scarcity solutions for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s a personnel issue that you need to investigate and keep private as much as possible.”

Gold also said Hagekhalil “lives and breathes water in this agency more than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

Hagekhalil has led the agency at a time of major challenges, including negotiations aimed at addressing shortages of Colorado River water, plans for building the country’s largest wastewater recycling facility, and the MWD board’s consideration of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to build a $20-billion water tunnel in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

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Hagekhalil previously worked for the city of Los Angeles leading programs focusing on sewers and streets. He was appointed MWD’s general manager in 2021 after a bitter power struggle among board members. He earns $503,942 a year as general manager and chief executive, leading more than 1,900 employees and overseeing more than $2.2 billion in annual spending.

Hagekhalil has said he is seeking to transform the district to make the region’s water supplies resilient to the effects of climate change.

“This is at a time when MWD is at a crossroads,” said Bruce Reznik, executive director of Los Angeles Waterkeeper, who has supported Hagekhalil’s efforts at MWD. “The old way of doing business, the old model for water, doesn’t work in our climate change reality, and I know MWD is wrestling with these very challenging issues. And I think Adel and his team have done an amazing job of starting to tackle that.”

Some of Hagekhalil’s supporters questioned why the matter was brought to the board while he was traveling, and suggested the public airing of grievances appeared to be a calculated ambush.

Kasaine wrote in the letter that she has been “maligned, harassed, bullied, and sidelined from my core responsibilities.” She said Hagekhalil’s “preference for male colleagues/staff over me has continued to sow the seeds of sexism and belittling.”

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She also criticized Hagekhalil’s hiring of a team of trusted, highly paid consultants, calling it “an entire shadow leadership team, wielding more power than those holding official titles.”

Kasaine said Hagekhalil has told her that she will no longer have oversight responsibilities leading the district’s human resources and diversity, equity and inclusion offices.

“Taking these core services from me without any justification or reason is highly suspect and leads me to believe it is retaliation for speaking up on key concerns,” Kasaine wrote in the letter.

During Thursday’s meeting, many speakers said the matter demands a thorough and impartial investigation.

Ellen Mackey, chair of the employee union’s women’s caucus, told the board that as the situation stands, “we don’t have facts, just accusations.”

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Some environmental advocates said they suspect a link between the surfacing of allegations against Hagekhalil and his work leading efforts to take the district in a new direction by developing a climate adaptation plan, investing in local water sources and revamping MWD’s financial model.

Charming Evelyn, who chairs the Sierra Club’s water committee in Southern California, said Hagekhalil has brought positive changes to the MWD, and that has put him in conflict with the district’s “old guard.”

The California Water Impact Network, an advocacy group, said in a press release that the possibility that Hagekhalil’s efforts might lead the board to eventually vote against the proposed Delta Conveyance Project “has led to an attempted mutiny” by supporters of the tunnel among the district’s board members and staff.

The group noted that Kasaine currently serves as treasurer of the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Authority, the entity that was created to finance the tunnel project.

Max Gomberg, a board member of the California Water Impact Network, charged that the move against Hagekhalil appears to be a “political power play” designed to push through the tunnel project.

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Leaders of Indigenous tribes and other environmental groups also voiced concerns.

Krystal Moreno of the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians said that while the accusations should be independently investigated, “we also ask that the investigation include the questionable and concerning timing of these allegations and the board’s swift attempt to remove Adel without any investigation while he has been out of the country.”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of the group Restore the Delta, which opposes the tunnel project, said the allegations and the timing of the claims are “equally problematic.”

“Both deserve a thorough and fact based investigation with transparent findings and due process,” she said.

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Trump has 'sort of a pretty good idea' of VP pick, will probably announce during RNC convention

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Trump has 'sort of a pretty good idea' of VP pick, will probably announce during RNC convention

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Former President Trump said he has “sort of a pretty good idea” of who his vice presidential running mate will be but will probably announce his selection during this summer’s Republican National Convention. 

Trump spoke with Fox News’ Aishah Hasnie at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Republican National Committee on Thursday following meetings with the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

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He was asked if his pick was present at any of the meetings.

TRUMP RILES UP FIERY SWING STATE CROWD IN FIRST RALLY SINCE NEW YORK CONVICTION

Aishah Hasnie spoke with President Trump at the Republican National Convention headquarters in Washington, D.C., following his meetings at the National Republican Senatorial Committee on Thursday. (Fox News)

“Probably. I don’t want to go, but I think (it) will probably get announced during the convention,” Trump said. “During the convention. There were some good people and, we have some very good people.”

The convention will be held from July 15-18 in Milwaukee. Trump said that Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, could be on the short list. 

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“And I think I could consider that,” he said. “Yes. I haven’t been asked that question, but he would be on that list.”

Hasnie also asked Trump about his thoughts on President Biden as a father following Hunter Biden’s conviction on federal gun charges. 

“Well, I think it’s a very serious thing,” Trump said. “I understand that whole subject. I understand it pretty well because I’ve had it with people who have it in their family,” referring to the younger Biden’s history of drug addiction. 

BIDEN CAMP JABS AT TRUMP’S ‘FAILED’ BUSINESS RECORD AS FORMER PRESIDENT LOOKS TO SWAY NATION’S TOP CEOS

President Biden says he won't pardon Hunter

President Biden, left, and his son Hunter Biden. (Getty Images)

“It’s a very tough thing. It’s a very tough situation for a father,” he added. “It’s a very tough situation for a brother or sister. And it goes on and it’s not stopping. Whether it’s alcohol or drugs or whatever it may be. It’s a tough thing. And so that’s a tough moment for the family. It’s a tough moment for any family involved in that.”

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Hunter Biden was convicted last week of three felony charges related to the purchase of a revolver in 2018 when he lied on a federal gun-purchase form by saying he was not illegally using or addicted to drugs.

Biden has said he will not use his presidential powers to appeal his son’s conviction. He’s also said in the past that he was proud of his son and that he believes he did nothing wrong. 

Hogan Maryland

Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks at an annual leadership meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas on Nov. 18, 2022.  (AP Photo/John Locher)

“As I said last week, I am the President, but I am also a Dad. Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today,” Biden said after the verdict. “So many families who have had loved ones battle addiction understand the feeling of pride seeing someone you love come out the other side and be so strong and resilient in recovery.”

Later in his interview, Trump said he hadn’t been asked to endorse former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, for the U.S. Senate. Hogan endorsed Nikki Haley over Trump and did not endorse him during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. 

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“Yeah, I’d like to see him win,” Trump said. “I think he has a good chance to win. I would like to see him win.”

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