Republicans look to squeeze Dems with vote to abolish ICE

House Republican leaders plan to hold a vote on a liberal bill to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency — forcing Democrats to weigh in on a controversial issue that has divided the party just months before the midterms.

“We can have a debate,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Thursday, adding that the vote would occur before the August recess.

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GOP leaders are also considering holding a vote on a “Medicare for All” proposal supported by progressives. That vote could take place in several weeks, said GOP sources.

The proposals, which have become a rallying cry on the left, aren’t supported by party leaders or moderates, who warn it threatens to alienate independent voters in critical districts they need to win back the House.

Multiple GOP sources said House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) pushed for the “Abolish ICE“ bill to get a vote during a Republican Study Committee meeting Thursday, then again in a whip team huddle.

GOP members loved the idea: putting Democrats on record backing a measure that could turn off swing voters — or voting no and rebuking their own colleagues. It would also be an easy unifier for House Republicans, who are still licking their wounds from their own divisive immigration battle last month.

Republican leadership aides say a floor vote is likely later this month.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) introduced his bill to terminate ICE on Thursday, the latest effort in a push that’s gained steam among the party’s progressives and 2020 presidential contenders in recent weeks. Pocan first floated the idea of introducing the bill late last month after visiting the U.S.-Mexico border.

But Pocan and the bill‘s other authors, Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), say they won’t be part of a GOP “political stunt.” Pocan said he expects other Democrats to follow suit in voting no but said they’d relish the opportunity to debate immigration on the House floor.

“If Paul [Ryan] really wants to give us time, we would love to have time on the floor,” Pocan said in an interview. “We’ll be glad to capture floor time to talk about family separation, to talk about ICE, to talk about DACA, all the stuff that they haven’t given us floor time on.”

Meanwhile, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are also fuming over the liberal move to eliminate the agency, arguing the effort distracts from the ongoing family separation crisis and President Donald Trump’s broader immigration crackdown while handing Republicans a cudgel to wield against Democrats.

On top of that, several members of the caucus are frustrated that they weren’t consulted ahead of time on the bill. Pocan and Espaillat, a CHC member, met with the caucus on Thursday to try to ease some of the tensions.

The outreach seems to have done little good. The CHC did not take an official position on the bill and it’s unclear if the group — a key constituency in the party — will publicly weigh in at all.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a member of the CHC and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said he just saw the bill text two days ago. Grijalva said CHC lawmakers made clear at Thursday’s meeting that they were angry at being kept out of the loop until the bill’s introduction.

“On the issue of immigration, when they have been at the forefront of trying to deal with DACA, family separation and the kids, yes,” he said when asked if CHC members felt like they should have been consulted earlier.

The push to dismantle ICE has swerved into the Democratic mainstream quickly in recent weeks. What was once mostly a fringe argument on the far-left was thrust to the forefront last month following Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning primary win over Rep. Joe Crowley, the No. 4 House Democrat.

Ocasio-Cortez made abolishing ICE a cornerstone of her progressive platform and after her win, several mainstream Democrats quickly voiced their support for tearing down or overhauling the agency.

But the battle cry hasn’t sat well with all in the party. One lawmaker who attended Thursday’s CHC meeting described the effort as “nothing but noise,” arguing all it does is help Republicans by taking the focus off of the migrant crisis.

The Trump administration has started reuniting migrant families but many young children remain separated from their parents, officials said Thursday.

Other lawmakers say they worry it will easily allow the GOP to paint Democrats as backing “open borders” heading into the final months of midterm campaigning, a messaging that could imperil Democratic efforts to win several swing seats and take back control of the House.

The CHC even distributed a series of talking points to its members in late June criticizing the idea.

“Abolishing ICE without changing President Trump’s disastrous immigration policy will not solve the problem,” caucus staffers wrote in a copy obtained by POLITICO.

The CHC points out that ICE’s jurisdiction goes far beyond interior immigration enforcement and includes “narcotics enforcement, investigating cybercrimes, human smuggling, firearms smuggling and counterterrorism.” In addition, nixing ICE would not get rid of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency tasked with enforcing immigration laws at the border.

Pocan defended the bill Thursday despite the controversy it’s generated on both sides of the aisle.

“I don’t think this is intended to be a political argument,” he said. “I want to get focused on the problem and the problem is the current way we do immigration, because of this president abusing it as a personal deportation force.”

Pocan went on to argue that no matter what Democrats say, Trump and Republicans are going to call them too soft on immigration.

“I actually kind of like it when they say things like, ‘Oh look this shows you want open borders,’” he said. “ICE doesn’t work at the borders, right? It shows that they’re lying.”

Ron Boehmer, a spokesman for Pocan, later noted that in addition to Espaillat, two other lawmakers in the 29-member Hispanic Caucus are also backing the bill: New York Democratic Reps. José Serrano and Nydia Velazquez.

“Everyone in the room agreed that the administration’s immigration policies are unacceptable and that we need to stand together against family separation,” Boehmer wrote in an email of the CHC meeting. “Additionally, members also agreed that the way President Trump is misusing ICE is creating problems.”

But Republicans from Trump on down have happily seized on the issue to try to paint Democrats as out of touch with the American public.

“It’s the craziest position I’ve ever seen and they are just, they’re tripping over themselves to move too far to the left,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Thursday. “They are out of the mainstream of America and that’s one of the reasons why I feel very good about this fall.”

John Bresnahan contributed to this report.

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‘Kiss my you know what’: Schumer hamstrung in SCOTUS fight

Chuck Schumer says he’s going to fight Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court with “everything I’ve got.” To do so, he’ll need to get centrist Democrats to hold the line.

The minority leader’s problem? Those Democrats say he can’t tell them what to do.

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“I’ll be 71 years old in August, you’re going to whip me? Kiss my you know what,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) when asked if Schumer can influence his vote.

Kavanaugh’s nomination is already a huge headache for the Senate minority leader. Not only is he under pressure from the left to tank the nominee, Schumer also has a half-dozen vulnerable members from red and purple states up for reelection this fall. To defeat Kavanaugh, Schumer has to keep all 49 of his members in tow and convince at least one moderate Republican to break ranks.

But it could prove impossible for Schumer to persuade senators like Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana to vote against Kavanaugh. All three supported Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch last year, and all three say that their decision won’t be swayed by Schumer no matter what he does this year.

“My decision won’t have anything to do with Chuck Schumer,” Donnelly said.

“I’m going to vote the way I’m going to vote regardless of what the leader says,’ Heitkamp said.

It may be good politics for them to distance themselves from Schumer, who is close to the caucus’s moderates and helped elect many of them. Republicans are attacking vulnerable Democrats for their association with Schumer, so they‘re doing what they can do create daylight from a party leader that all of them voted for in the most recent leadership election.

Yet that distance will hamstring Schumer’s ability to stop Kavanaugh’s nomination. If his red-state Democrats vote “no” on Kavanaugh, they’ll inevitably be accused of kowtowing to the New Yorker.

Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that’s reason enough for Schumer to tread carefully with the Democrats most likely to back President Donald Trump’s nominee.

“Chuck knows better [than to twist arms] and I do, too,” Durbin said. “These are men and women who will make an historic, important, legal and personal judgment.”

Schumer declined to comment for this story. But for now, Democrats say, it looks like Schumer agrees with Durbin on a hands-off approach.

Yet some in the party argue that’s an ineffective strategy.

Adam Jentleson, who served as deputy chief of staff to former Democratic Leader Harry Reid, is calling for Schumer to take a hard line with his entire caucus on the Kavanaugh nomination.

“Giving red staters a pass on every tough vote is neither strategy nor leadership. If you care about standing for something, sometimes you have to ask members to do hard things,” Jentleson said. “Reid knew when to do that and this is one of those moments.“

But David Krone, a former chief of staff to Reid who now works in venture capital, said that Schumer can’t simply “wave a magic wand” and make his caucus vote “no” on such a challenging vote right before the midterm elections.

“There’s no blanket approach, and anybody who thinks there is doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” Krone said. “There’s only so much a leader can do to influence a final vote … it’s not like Chuck Schumer isn’t going to try.”

Liberal activists are also bird-dogging Schumer to try harder. A cadre largely affiliated with the anti-Trump group Indivisible is cajoling the Democratic leader to reschedule an in-person town hall in Brooklyn after having to bow out at the eleventh hour last week. Protesters recently demonstrated outside his local office with chants of “Whip the vote, Chuck!”

Other progressive groups are directing their efforts more at swing-vote senators from both parties than on pushing the minority leader personally. Demand Justice, formed to battle Trump’s nominees, unveiled its first ads Friday targeting Manchin, Donnelly, and Heitkamp.

That tactical decision tracks with the thinking of top Democrats inside the Capitol, who say there’s little upside to Schumer leaning hard on his own vulnerable senators if the goal is to get them to vote no. Even vulnerable Democrats expected to vote against Kavanaugh must carefully position themselves to avoid appearing being under Schumer’s influence.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who voted against Gorsuch, said he “probably won’t be whipped” by Schumer, as did Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). And Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said “Chuck knows better” than to press her to vote with the caucus.

“He doesn’t come to me and say: ‘You’ve got to vote with us on this.’ He knows I’ll tell him to take a flyin’ leap,” McCaskill said. “I’m going to do what I think is right. It has nothing to do with the party.”

Democrats are already envisioning the triple bank shot they would need to sink Kavanaugh. First, Schumer has to get his moderates to withhold any commitments to back Kavanaugh until Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) take a position.

If either that duo or Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are wavering on Kavanaugh, then Schumer and his team would have room to escalate their effort to lock down “no” votes from the three moderates who voted for Gorsuch, as well as Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who was not in the Senate for the last Supreme Court confirmation.

Democrats close to Schumer say that he truly wants to defeat the nomination. But they say he is taking a more deliberate tack by simply hearing out potential Kavanaugh supporters in private conversations rather than cracking the whip.

“The worst thing you can do is to try to strong arm a resilient, experienced, independent senator from a red state,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), a member of the whip team. “It just wouldn’t work to try to break arms. They wouldn’t respond well to that. So I think he’s going about this in a way that respects that.”

The conundrum for Schumer is a regular topic of discussion among Republicans. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) even ribbed Schumer at the Senate gym on Wednesday as the minority leader sweated it out on an exercise bike, telling Schumer he’s in a bind but that he’s “kind of like Houdini” and will figure a way out.

Schumer laughed a bit but “didn’t think it was all that funny,” Cornyn recalled.

The Democratic leader has held his caucus together on high-profile votes to repeal Obamacare, cut taxes and confirm Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. At the same time, moderates broke ranks on Gorsuch and CIA Director Gina Haspel, even though Haspel’s declared GOP opponents gave Democrats leverage to stop her nomination.

Schumer told his leadership team on Monday that health care and abortion rights may be able to win over Collins and Murkowski, according to two people briefed on the meeting. Yet those two senators don’t seem to be responding to ad campaigns and pressure tactics in their states. Murkowski said the due diligence she‘s doing on Kavanaugh shouldn’t be interpreted as a response to any Democratic strategy to defeat him.

“If the Democrats think that the pressure campaign that they’ve unleashed in Maine — including $3 million worth of television, radio and online ads — is going to have an impact on me,“ Collins said, “they are sorely mistaken.”

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Pelosi calls for delay in leadership elections to thwart fellow Dems

Nancy Pelosi is pictured. | AP Photo

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s request follows a behind-the-scenes scramble inside the House Democratic Caucus this week to force a delay in the election. | Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Friday unexpectedly called for a delay in caucus leadership elections until after Thanksgiving.

Pelosi’s request follows a behind-the-scenes scramble inside the House Democratic Caucus this week to force a delay in the elections, which are typically held in the first few weeks after the midterms.

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Pelosi was trying to beat her own members to the punch, pushing out her letter first on Friday after word circulated that several rank-and-file Democrats had already drafted their own missive demanding a delay and were quickly gathering signatures in support.

“I believe it is important that we follow the schedule for leadership elections that the Caucus set last cycle, allowing additional time for freshmen to get oriented,” Pelosi wrote to her colleagues. “My recommendation to the Caucus would be to set leadership elections sometime after Thanksgiving, at a date to be determined by the Caucus.”

But lawmakers and aides with knowledge of the letter say Pelosi clearly wanted to get out ahead of a member-led effort that was already brewing to force the elections to be held after the fall holiday.

About 20 members solidified the plan during a Thursday dinner at Acqua Al 2, a popular Italian restaurant on the Hill. The dinner was spearheaded by Democratic Reps. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, Mike Capuano of Massachusetts and John Larson of Connecticut, according to a member present.

The lawmakers drafted a letter calling for the leadership elections to be held Dec. 5, nearly a month after the Nov. 6 midterms, according to a copy obtained by POLITICO.

The members present at the dinner Thursday signed the letter then, with some lawmakers working their colleagues on the House floor Friday to get enough additional signatures to force the delay.

Larson, Capuano and Pascrell all signed the first page of the letter. Other Democrats whose signatures are visible include Reps. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and John Yarmuth of Kentucky, ranking member of the House Budget Committee.

Reps. Albio Sires of New Jersey, Ami Bera of California, Peter Welch of Vermont, Filemon Vela of Texas, Mike Doyle and Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania, and Tom Suozzi of New York are some of the other visible signees.

“Instead of having a leadership election jammed down our throat, let’s give it some time so that people have opportunity to — especially the new folks — absorb the process,” said one member who attended the meeting and requested anonymity to speak candidly.

Some Democratic sources described the letter as another sign that Pelosi’s longtime hold on the caucus might be waning.

The push isn’t without precedent, however. Pelosi was forced to delay leadership elections in 2016 after an outcry from several members about how she was rushing the process.

That delay allowed Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio time to mount a challenge to the longtime leader. Pelosi decisively beat Ryan, winning two-thirds of the caucus vote in a secret-ballot election.

But since that time, caucus frustration at the static leadership hierarchy has grown, with several lawmakers and at least two dozen Democratic House candidates now openly calling for change at the top. Pelosi has led the Democratic Caucus for nearly 16 years.

Those calls have only intensified after Rep. Joe Crowley of New York, the No. 4 House Democrat who was seen by many as Pelosi’s likely successor, lost his primary last month.

Since Crowley’s loss, Democratic lawmakers have been strategizing behind the scenes about who will run for the now-open post of Ccucus chairman and whether someone should try to mount a challenge to Pelosi.

Pelosi has said she plans to run for speaker again if Democrats take back the House in November. So far, no one has stepped forward to challenge her, although Ryan told POLITICO earlier this week he is considering running again.

“As the letter makes clear, we are open to whatever the Caucus wants,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said in a statement when asked for comment on the members’ letter.

The lawmaker at the Thursday night dinner said the group’s organizers quickly dismissed any discussion of a potential leadership change or who should run for the caucus’ top posts in an effort to keep the meeting focused on the letter.

“One of the things they want to accomplish is moving forward an effort to distribute, to have your rank-and-file members, have more say in the process,” the lawmaker said.

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House conservatives prep push to impeach Rosenstein

Rod Rosenstein is pictured. | AP Photo

Conservative GOP lawmakers have been plotting to remove Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for weeks. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo

House conservatives are preparing a new push to oust Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, according to three conservative Capitol Hill sources — putting the finishing touches on an impeachment filing even as Rosenstein announced the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers for interfering in the 2016 election.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, in fact, had the impeachment document on the floor of the House at the very moment that Rosenstein spoke to reporters and TV cameras Friday.

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Conservative GOP lawmakers have been plotting to remove Rosenstein for weeks, accusing him of slow-walking their probe of FBI agents they’ve accused of bias against President Donald Trump.

Democrats contend Republicans’ fixation on Rosenstein is really an effort to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller, who reports to Rosenstein and has been making inroads in his investigation of the Russian election interference plot. Mueller’s probe has entangled members of Trump’s inner circle and Trump has increasingly assailed it as a politically motivated “witch hunt” as it’s presented greater danger to him and his allies.

Conservative sources say they could file the impeachment document as soon as Monday, as Meadows and Freedom Caucus founder Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) look to build Republican support in the House. One source cautioned, however, that the timing was still fluid.

“It has not been filed today,” was all Meadows spokesman Ben Williamson would say. Williamson declined to rule out whether Meadows intended to file the document next week.

Republicans could also try to hold Rosenstein in contempt of Congress, if they want to go a step before impeachment.

It is unclear how much support conservatives will have in their effort. Rosenstein has become a punching bag for Trump and his allies as they vent frustration over the Russia investigation. Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, Rosenstein has overseen the Mueller probe, which is also examining potential obstruction of justice charges against the president.

But House GOP leaders like Speaker Paul Ryan have clearly been uncomfortable with the notion of going after Rosenstein. It’s unlikely that will change anytime soon, especially so soon after the latest indictments. Ryan’s office was not immediately available for comment.

Rosenstein has clashed with House Republicans for months, with Rosenstein insisting that he’s working to comply with the GOP’s intensive demands for documents — some directly relevant to Mueller’s ongoing probe.

But Ryan and other top GOP lawmakers have accused him of stonewalling and flouting Congress’ oversight authority. Trump, too, has frequently sided with lawmakers to pressure Rosenstein to turn over more documents, an effort Democrats say is really meant to arm Trump with more insight into the Russia probe.

The House, with Ryan’s blessing, adopted a measure last month accusing Rosenstein and other DOJ officials of bucking Congress and demanding access to thousands of sensitive FBI documents by July 6. It’s unclear whether Republican leaders are satisfied with DOJ’s efforts since then or if they’re preparing a renewed push for the materials.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that the White House overruled the FBI and ordered broader access for some GOP lawmakers to documents related to an informant connected to the ongoing Russia probe.

In his remarks Friday, Rosenstein urged the public to be wary of leaks surrounding the Mueller probe.

“We do not try cases on television or in congressional hearings. Most anonymous leaks are not from the government officials who are actually conducting these investigations,” he said.

“We follow the rule of law, which means that we follow procedures, and we reserve judgment,” he added. “We complete our investigations, and we evaluate all of the relevant evidence before we reach any conclusion. That is how the American people expect their Department of Justice to operate, and that is how our department is going to operate.”

But House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has made clear that he doesn’t consider Rosenstein out of the woods yet.

After a daylong grilling Thursday of FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok — whom Republicans have accused of bias in the Russia probe — Goodlatte said he blamed Rosenstein for limiting Strzok’s ability to reveal details of his work.

“Rosenstein, who has oversight over the FBI and of the Mueller investigation is where the buck stops,” he said. “Congress has been blocked today from conducting its constitutional oversight duty.”

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Democrats: Trump should scrap Putin powwow

Chuck Schumer is pictured. | AP Photo

Sen. Chuck Schumer called on President Donald Trump to postpone his updcoming meeting with the Russian president. | Alex Brandon/AP Photo

Democrats demanded Friday that President Donald Trump call off a planned private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the wake of an explosive new indictment from Special Counsel Robert Mueller that charges Russian military officers with hacking the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election.

“These indictments are further proof of what everyone but the president seems to understand: President Putin is an adversary who interfered in our elections to help President Trump win,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

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Trump is slated to huddle one-on-one with Putin on Monday in Helsinki, Finland. Some Democrats are demanding that Trump cancel the summit outright, while others say he should simply ensure that top aides are in the room to prevent suspicion about the substance of their meeting. All said that if Trump does meet with Putin, he must take a hard line on election interference — and perhaps demand the extradition of the 12 alleged hackers identified by Mueller.

“These indictments are clear proof that the Russian investigation is not a witch hunt,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. “The fact that Trump after being briefed on the indictment apparently continued in England today to call it a witch hunt is inexplicable except on the assumption that he only cares about himself and not about the welfare of the United States or our democracy.”

Nadler said he doesn’t expect Trump to fully cancel the summit but that meeting alone with Putin could be dangerous. “I wouldn’t trust what he says there,” Nadler said. “Maybe they’re plotting.”

Republicans were generally silent on the indictments shortly after they were announced Friday afternoon by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller investigation.

Rosenstein has been the target of increasing conservative attacks in recent months. In fact, several conservative House Republicans are preparing to introduce a new effort to oust him through the impeachment process as soon as next week. Rosenstein has also taken whacks from Trump, who has taken a more critical view of the probe as it has entangled members of his inner circle.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), one of Rosenstein’s top critics and a driver of the upcoming impeachment effort, said he expects Trump to follow through on an earlier promise to press Putin on election meddling. Trump has repeatedly downplayed whether he’ll be able to get results from such a conversation, emphasizing that all he can do is raise the subject and that Putin will likely deny it.

Schumer called on Trump to postpone his meeting with the Russian president, set to take place in Helsinki, “until Russia takes demonstrable and transparent steps to prove that they won’t interfere in future elections. Glad-handing with Vladimir Putin on the heels of these indictments would be an insult to our democracy.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Judiciary Committee who is active in supporting legislation to protect Mueller’s job, tweeted: “No question President Trump should cancel Monday’s meeting with Putin — certainly no meeting alone.”

The indictment released by Mueller’s team on Friday states that the goal of Russian intelligence officers behind the alleged hacking operation was to sway the 2016 election, and the intelligence community has agreed that Russia came to prefer a Trump victory.

Rosenstein emphasized in his press conference that this particular indictment doesn’t allege Americans cooperated with the Russian effort, and also that there was no effort undertaken to assess the actual impact of the scheme.

“[Any] impact they may have had, or what their motivation may have been independently of what’s required to prove this offense, is a matter of speculation,” he said. “That’s not our responsibility.”

In its response to the indictment, the White House pointed to that lack of specific proof that the Russian intelligence operations ultimately swung the election to Trump.

“Today’s charges include no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said in a statement. “This is consistent with what we have been saying all along.”

Rachael Bade contributed reporting.

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