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Evans, gay candidates far behind in D.C. primary early returns

Pinto leads Kennedy by just 102 votes in Ward 2 race

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DC election, gay news, Washington Blade
John Fanning was far behind frontrunner Brooke Pinto in the Ward 2 race; Patrick Kennedy is running a close second in early results. (Photos courtesy of the campaigns) (Photos courtesy of the campaigns)

Former D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), a longtime LGBTQ community ally who resigned from the Council in January following allegations of serious ethics violations and who asked Ward 2 voters to give him another chance to represent them, was in seventh place in an eight-candidate race with just 292 votes or 3.8 percent of the vote, according to a preliminary vote count released Wednesday morning by the D.C. Board of Elections for the city’s June 2 Democratic primary.

Gay Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner John Fanning, who political observers say waged a credible campaign for the hotly contested Ward 2 Council seat, and gay Ward 7 ANC member Anthony Lorenzo Green, who received endorsements from the AFL-CIO and the Washington Teachers Union, were far behind with 6.8 percent and 11.7 percent of the vote respectively in the preliminary count.

In the Ward 2 contest, former Assistant D.C. Attorney General Brooke Pinto was in first place in the preliminary vote count with 2,150 votes or 27.7 percent, just ahead of Foggy Bottom Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Patrick Kennedy, who received 2,048 votes or 26.4 percent.

Community activist Jordan Grossman was in third place with 1,562 votes or 20.1 percent as of early Wednesday morning.

With Pinto leading Kennedy by just 102 votes and with her lead over Grossman amounting to 588 votes, it couldn’t immediately be determined whether the as-yet-to-be-counted mail-in ballots would change the outcome of the vote between Pinto, Kennedy, and Grossman.

The Board of Elections stated on its website that as of 2:42 a.m. Wednesday it had counted the ballots it has received so far from each of the city’s 144 voter precincts. But the BOE did not disclose whether it knows how many absentee mail-in ballots it has yet to receive. The BOE said it would count all mail-in ballots postmarked before midnight on Tuesday, June 2.

Grossman released a statement Wednesday morning saying more than 4,400 mail-in ballots had not been returned or counted and the race was now a three-way contest between him, Pinto and Kennedy. But Grossman’s statement didn’t say where he obtained that information and a Board of Elections spokesperson couldn’t immediately be reached to confirm the actual number of outstanding mail-in ballots.

Grossman spokesperson Morgan Finkelstein told the Blade in an email that the Grossman campaign based its 4,400 outstanding mail-in ballot figure on the election board’s disclosure that a total of 10,583 mail-in ballots had been requested and that 6,110 mail-in ballots had been counted as of Wednesday morning.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, the Board of Elections said it would take at least a week or longer for the outstanding mail-in ballots to be received and counted. The statement says that if postmarked by June 2, the board would count the ballots that arrive by mail before or on June 12, indicating that the final outcome of the election in the Ward 2 race may not be known until at least June 12.

Evans, who has been the D.C. Council’s longest serving member, told the Washington Post he had no regrets about running for the seat from which he had just resigned as his fellow Council members were about to expel him.

“I am glad I ran,” the Post quoted him as saying on Wednesday. “I’m glad I gave voters in Ward 2 an opportunity, and I want to thank the voters and residents of Ward 2 for their support over the last 29 years and the opportunity to serve,” he said.

Gay nightlife advocate and Washington Blade columnist Mark Lee, who was one of the few who endorsed Evans in the June 2 primary, has said Evans’ support for the ward’s and the city’s small businesses, including bars and restaurants, has been beneficial to the city’s large LGBTQ community.

“Fortunately for the ward and the city as a whole, the two leading candidates running neck-and-neck both campaigned as political moderates and hold centrist positions reflective of voters in the economically vibrant and commerce intensive district,” Lee said. “Patrick Kennedy and Brooke Pinto are business-friendly candidates well equipped to best represent their potential constituencies, whichever candidate ultimately prevails as the remaining votes are counted and a winner is determined,” Lee said.

Although Lee did not say so directly, the third candidate with a shot at winning the Ward 2 seat, Jordan Grossman, has positioned himself as a progressive, left-leaning candidate who has received support from the ward’s progressive voters and organizations. In his own statement on Wednesday, Grossman said he and his campaign team are pleased with his status as one of the top three remaining contenders after more than a year of campaigning. He said he doesn’t expect the outcome of the Ward 2 race to be known for at least several days.

“But we feel very good about where we are – and I couldn’t be prouder of everything we’ve done together in this campaign to put us in this position,” he said.

Vincent Gray, who nearly all political observers believe will go on to win re-election as the Ward 7 Council member in November, issued his own statement on Wednesday saying he will dedicate his efforts going forward to address the inequities and challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and the strife related to the murder by a Minneapolis police officer of African American George Floyd.

“Today we celebrate our victory, but please also pray for calm,” Gray said in his statement. “Tomorrow we continue with the work brought on by pandemic and the urgent need for change not only in the White House, but in the American psyche,” he said. “We will heal, but we cannot rest. There is grave injustice in our country and we must end it once and for all.”

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the election board and most city officials, including Mayor Muriel Bowser, urged city residents to apply for absentee ballots to enable them to vote by mail. However, according to media reports on Tuesday, numerous residents waiting on long lines to vote at 20 special voting stations set up by the BOE said they never received the absentee ballots they applied for.

And although the polling stations were scheduled to close at 8 p.m. Tuesday, the city’s social distancing requirements prevented more than 10 people from entering the voting stations at one time, resulting in the voting continuing until past midnight at several of the polling stations, according to media reports.

Similar to nearly all candidates on the ballot in the June 2 primary, each of the Ward 2 candidates, including Pinto and Kennedy, expressed strong support for LGBTQ rights, with Pinto, Kennedy, and especially Fanning pointing to actions they have taken in the past to support the LGBTQ community.

The final but preliminary vote count in the Ward 2 D.C. Council race for all eight Democratic candidates is as follows: Brooke Pinto, 27.7 percent; Patrick Kennedy, 26.4 percent; Jordan Grossman, 20.1 percent; Kishan Putta, 9.8 percent; John Fanning, 6.8 percent; Yilin Zhang, 4.1 percent; Jack Evans, 3.8 percent; and Daniel Hernandez, 1.3 percent.

Republican Ward 2 candidate Katherine Venice, who has expressed strong support for LGBTQ rights, ran unopposed in the D.C. Republican primary on June 2, ensuring that she will be on the ballot in the November general election in the Ward 2 contest.

Venice released a statement on Tuesday calling for President Donald Trump to resign from office because of what she called his mishandling of the civil unrest that has erupted across the country during the past week over the death of African American George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis.

Surprise in Ward 4

In what most political observers will likely consider a surprise outcome, incumbent Ward 4 Council member Brandon Todd appears to have been defeated by community activist Janeese Lewis George by a margin of 54.1 percent to 43.6 percent in a three-candidate race. Ward 4 community activist Marlena Edwards finished third with 2.1 percent of the vote.

However, the final but preliminary unofficial vote count as of Wednesday morning shows George was leading Todd by 1,540 votes. If in fact more than 4,000 mail-in ballots remain uncounted, the outcome of the Ward 4 race could change, although it would be unlikely that many outstanding mail-in ballots were for Ward 4.

Todd and George have each expressed strong support for LGBTQ rights. George, who identifies herself as a Democratic socialist, received a rating of +6.5 out of a possible +10 on LGBTQ related issues from the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance. Todd received a +6 GLAA rating. Todd, a longtime ally of Mayor Bowser, received Bowser’s strong endorsement in the Ward 4 race.

With George leading Todd by 1,540 votes it appears unlikely that the outcome would change after the remaining mail-in ballots are counted.

In the Ward 7 race, incumbent D.C. Council member and former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray finished first in a six-candidate contest with 45.7 percent of the vote. Gray, who is considered one of the city’s strongest LGBTQ community supporters, received the endorsement of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political organization.

Gray received a +8 rating from GLAA compared to Gray’s closest rival, Ward 7 community activist Veda Rasheed, who received 22.7 percent of the vote and a GLAA rating of “0.” Rasheed expressed support for LGBTQ issues during the campaign, but GLAA said it assigned her and three of the other candidates in the race — Rebecca Morris, James Leroy Jennings, and Kelvin Brown — a “0” rating because they did not return a GLAA candidate questionnaire and the group wasn’t aware of their records on LGBTQ issues.

Gay candidate Green, who has a record of support on LGBT issues and who has spoken out on those issues, received a +4 GLAA rating rather than a higher rating because he too failed to return the questionnaire, according to GLAA.

The final but preliminary outcome in the Ward 7 race is as follows: Vincent Gray, 45.7 percent; Veda Rasheed, 22.7 percent; Kelvin Brown, 17.8 percent; Anthony Lorenzo Green, 11.7 percent; Rebecca Morris, 1.4 percent; and James Leroy Jennings, 0.3 percent.

In the Ward 8 D.C. Council race, incumbent Democrat Trayon White finished a strong first with 58.7 percent of the vote in a four-candidate contest. White has expressed support for LGBTQ issues during his first term on the Council and has appeared at events hosted by the LGBTQ youth organization Check It Enterprises, which is based in Ward 8. White received a +4.5 rating from GLAA.

The final but preliminary vote count in the Ward 8 D.C. Council race is as follows: Trayon White, 58.8 percent; Mike Austin, 26.2 percent; Yaida Ford, 7.6 percent; and Stuart Anderson, 4.9 percent.

In the local city-wide races in the Democratic primary, D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At-Large) ran unopposed and are considered the strong favorites to win re-election in the November general election.

Also running unopposed in the primary were incumbent D.C. U.S. Shadow Senator Paul Strauss (D) and D.C. Shadow U.S. House candidate Oye Owolewa (D), who are also considered strong favorites to win in the general election.

Biden wins D.C. vote

In a component of the D.C. primary that has received little attention following former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s status as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Biden, as expected, was running far ahead in D.C.’s presidential preference primary as of Wednesday morning, with 74.5 percent of the vote.

Three of Biden’s former rivals for the Democratic nomination were on the D.C. primary ballot even though they suspended their campaigns and announced they were endorsing Biden. They include U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who received 14.4 percent of the D.C. primary vote on Tuesday; U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), who received 9.4 percent of the D.C. vote; and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who received 0.7 percent of the D.C. vote.

With the outcome of the Ward 2 Council race still uncertain, the Washington Blade will provide updated information as it becomes available, including comments from some of the candidates.

The election returns released so far can be accessed at dcboe.org.

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Kelley Robinson, a Black, queer woman, named president of Human Rights Campaign

Progressive activist a veteran of Planned Parenthood Action Fund

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Kelley Robinson (Screen capture via HRC YouTube)

Kelley Robinson, a Black, queer woman and veteran of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, is to become the next president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading LGBTQ group announced on Tuesday.

Robinson is set to become the ninth president of the Human Rights Campaign after having served as executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and more than 12 years of experience as a leader in the progressive movement. She’ll be the first Black, queer woman to serve in that role.

“I’m honored and ready to lead HRC — and our more than three million member-advocates — as we continue working to achieve equality and liberation for all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer people,” Robinson said. “This is a pivotal moment in our movement for equality for LGBTQ+ people. We, particularly our trans and BIPOC communities, are quite literally in the fight for our lives and facing unprecedented threats that seek to destroy us.”

Kelley Robinson IS NAMED as The next human rights Campaign president

The next Human Rights Campaign president is named as Democrats are performing well in polls in the mid-term elections after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving an opening for the LGBTQ group to play a key role amid fears LGBTQ rights are next on the chopping block.

“The overturning of Roe v. Wade reminds us we are just one Supreme Court decision away from losing fundamental freedoms including the freedom to marry, voting rights, and privacy,” Robinson said. “We are facing a generational opportunity to rise to these challenges and create real, sustainable change. I believe that working together this change is possible right now. This next chapter of the Human Rights Campaign is about getting to freedom and liberation without any exceptions — and today I am making a promise and commitment to carry this work forward.”

The Human Rights Campaign announces its next president after a nearly year-long search process after the board of directors terminated its former president Alphonso David when he was ensnared in the sexual misconduct scandal that led former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign. David has denied wrongdoing and filed a lawsuit against the LGBTQ group alleging racial discrimination.

Kelley Robinson, Planned Parenthood, Cathy Chu, SMYAL, Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, Amy Nelson, Whitman-Walker Health, Sheroes of the Movement, Mayor's office of GLBT Affairs, gay news, Washington Blade
Kelley Robinson, seen here with Cathy Chu of SMYAL and Amy Nelson of Whitman-Walker Health, is the next Human Rights Campaign president. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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Eastern Europe

Former Ambassador Daniel Baer explains it all on Ukraine crisis

Expert downplays strategic thinking behind Putin’s move

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Daniel Baer, United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, gay news, Washington Blade
Daniel Baer served as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Daniel Baer, who worked on LGBTQ human rights and transatlantic issues as one of several openly gay U.S. ambassadors during the Obama administration, answered questions from the Washington Blade on Ukraine as the international crisis continues to unfold.

Topics during the interview, which took place weeks ago on Jan. 27, included Putin’s motivation for Russian incursions, the risk of outright war, predictions for Russia after Putin and how the crisis would affect LGBTQ people in Ukraine.

Baer was deputy assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and U.S. ambassador to the Organization of Security & Cooperation in Europe.

The full interview follows:

Washington Blade: What’s your level of engagement with this affair? Are you doing any consulting work? Is the administration reaching out to you at all?

Daniel Baer: I actually think the White House is doing a pretty good job of recognizing that they need to not only have press conferences, but also talk to other people who are trying to figure out how to be constructive critics, idea generators from the outside.

Blade: OK, so you’re being solicited and engaging on this issue. My next question for you is why do you think Putin is doing this at this time?

Baer: So, I guess taking a step back from the whole thing, one of the things about a problem like this is that everybody is searching for the right answer assuming that there is a like comfortable or compelling or intellectually accurate answer, and I actually think we’re just in a really hard moment.

I don’t know why he’s doing it now. And in fact, I think that one of the puzzles that we haven’t solved yet is that all the things that he says are the reasons that he’s doing it — that he feels encirclement by NATO, … or that the situation in Ukraine is untenable — none of those things have changed. Setting aside the fact that they’re spurious, it’s not like there’s been some new move in the last 12 months that has precipitated [a reaction] on any of those fronts that you can say, “Oh, well, he’s responding to the recent meeting where Ukraine was offered membership in NATO, or he’s responding to a change in government in Ukraine that it’s clearly anti-Russia, or any other move that we’ve done.” The explanation just doesn’t hold water, and so I think we need to look for alternative ones.

The best I can come up with is actually just a broad — it doesn’t actually explain this particular moment, but I think you could look at the timing of his life. He has, I don’t know, 10 years left. And during those 10 years, it’s unlikely that Russia is going to grow more powerful; it’s much more likely that it’s going to become at least relatively and probably nominally less powerful. And so, if you’re unhappy with the status quo, and you feel like you’re a declining power, and you don’t have endless time, there’s no time like the present. And you’ll make up whatever reasons you need to in order to justify it.

I also think there’s a tendency on our part to attribute far more “strategery” to Putin than there necessarily is. I mean, he’s a bully and a thug. I think the whole Putin’s playing chess and we’re playing checkers is actually completely inverted. We’re in our own heads that there’s some kind of nuanced position that would mollify him. He’s just a gangster and he’s taking a punch because he has one. And I don’t think it gets much more complicated than that. And so, I guess the answer to why he’s doing this now, because the international conditions are such that he feels like the United States is focused domestically, the Ukrainians are not moving forward with succeeding to build — they’re kind of in stasis on building a European state— and he has, you know, he has the space to take a punch, so he’s contemplating doing it, or he’s already decided to do it. And he’s just extracting as much as possible before he takes it.

Blade: That leads me to my next question: What is your judgement of the risk of out and out war?

Baer: I don’t know because I have two hypotheses that cut both ways. One is that I think Putin is vastly underestimating the degree of resistance. On the other hand, I think that nothing short of domination is satisfactory. And so, I don’t know. I guess I think there’s a 90 percent chance that he does something, and I think there’s a 75 percent chance that what he does is not an all out invasion or ground invasion, at least not at first, but rather something that is aimed at confusing us. So some sort of hybrid or staged or false flag kind of attack in tandem with a political coup in Kiev, where he works to install a more Russia-loyal leader.

The thing with the ground invasion is that Russian soldiers’ moms are one of the only, like, powerful political forces in civil society in Russia. I just don’t see any way that a ground invasion doesn’t involve massive Russian casualties, even if they will be dominant. The people who are going to impose the consequences on him will be the Ukrainians, not the rest of us, and he should not invade, and if he does, we should, frankly, work hard to make it as painful and difficult for him as possible.

Blade: What will that look like?

Baer: I think we should at that point continue — we shouldn’t pause, we should continue to send the defensive equipment and backfill as much as possible their ability from an equipment basis to resist.

Blade: So if we were to look at a model for past U.S. engagements. I’m thinking Greece under President Truman, which was so successful that nobody really knows about it, I don’t think. Is there any model we should be looking toward, or not looking toward?

Baer: No, I guess. I’m not sure there’s any good historical model because obviously, any of them you can pick apart. I do think that one thing that has gotten lost in a lot of the analysis — and this goes back to Putin being a gangster thug, and not being such a genius — is there’s a moral difference between us. The reason why Putin gets to control the dialogue is because he’s willing to do things that we aren’t willing to do — as gangsters are, as hostage-takers are — and so yes, they get to set the terms of what we discussed, because we’re not holding hostages. We’re trying to get hostages released. And the hostage-taker has an upper hand and asymmetry because they are willing to do something that is wrong.

We shouldn’t lose the kind of moral difference there. Nor should we lose sight of the fact that Ukraine is being menaced. And I’m not saying it’s our obligation [to intervene militarily], certainly not our obligation. They aren’t a treaty ally. We have neither a political obligation nor a moral one to necessarily risk our own lives, our own soldiers in defense of Ukraine. But if Ukraine wants to defend themselves, there’s a strong moral case to be made that anything, short of risking our own lives, is something that is morally good. We generally believe that self-defense from lethal threat is a reasonable moral cause and assisting others in defending themselves is too — I think there’s a lot of back and forth that get glossed over whether that’s a provocation or whatever, and I want to say to people stand back, look at this: we’ve got one party that is attacking another. And the question is, does the other have a right to defend itself? Yes. And if they have a right to defend themselves, and they also have a right to have whatever assistance people will offer them in defending themselves.

That doesn’t mean that they get to demand that we show up and fight in the trenches with them, of course, and I don’t think there’s any serious people who are recommending that but it’s a good thing to help them. It’s not like a technical thing. It’s a good thing to help

Blade: Getting into that moral background, one thing I want to ask you was about the significance of what would happen in this concept of democracy versus autocracy. First of all, how much is Ukraine a functional democracy, in the sense that if we’re defending Ukraine, we are defending a democracy, and what signal do you think it would send if that Ukrainian government fell to Russian autocracy?

Baer: I think the institutions of government that the Ukrainian people have are not worthy of the Ukrainian people’s own demonstrated commitment …

They are not worthy of the Ukrainian people’s own demonstrated commitment to the idea of democratic institutions. So the answer is today’s Ukrainian government is a mixed bag and it’s very hard to build, on the rot of a Russian fiefdom, a functioning democracy, so I think it’s a mixed bag. I don’t want to sound like I’m minimizing [the changes], or that they’ve completely bungled an easy project. It was always going to be a hard project, and it was never going to be linear.

But I think that what we’ve seen from the Ukrainian people — by which I mean not Ukrainian people, but people of Ukraine — is that there is a broad part of society that a) does not want to live under a Russian thumb and b) sees its future in kind of European style democracy. And so I think that if there was, there’s no question that the Russian attack would be in part about subjugating the people of Ukraine and forcing them to live under some sort of new Russian satellite. And I think that there’s little space for serious argument that that’s something that the people of the country wish to have.

Blade: But I’m just kind of getting at — you’re kind of minimizing that this is a strategic move by Putin, but if he were to successfully dominant Ukraine it becomes a Russian satellite isn’t that saying like, “Well, ha ha West, you thought the Cold War was over and there’s going to be just be a unipolar world in the future but no, we’re gonna we have this we’re back and we’re gonna create a multipolar world for the future.”

Baer: Yeah, I mean, my answer to the Russians who always raise the multipolar world to me is, “Fine, it’s going to be a multipolar world. What makes you think that Russia is one of the poles?” Poles by definition draw people to them, they are compelling and a pole attracts, magnetically or otherwise, and there is nothing attractive about the model that Russia is pursuing. And if the only way that you can be a pole is by subjugating, to force your neighbors, you are proving that you are not one.

I think the benefits for Russia are far smaller than Putin thinks and I think the consequences for the rest of the world of allowing a violation of international order to go forward are much larger than many people recognize.

Blade: But that was their approach when they were the Soviet Union. They were subjugating the Eastern Bloc through Russian force. They did have, in theory, the concept of their worldview of you know, of socialism, or whatever you want to put it charitably, was going to be the right way to go. Is there really that much of a difference?

Baer: Yeah, however disingenuous it was, they did have an ideology . So you’re right, that was a key distinction. The other thing is that the Soviet Union in relative size — its economy and population etc. — was much larger than Russia is today. And Russia is shrinking, and its economy is less diverse than the Communist one was. I think it’s a delusion to think that they’re going to kind of rebuild an empire, even if yes, because of their willingness to do awful things, they could potentially for a time politically control through violence, their neighbors. I just don’t — in a multipolar world, I don’t see Russia being one of the poles, at least not on its current path.

Blade: How would you evaluate the U.S. diplomatic approach to this issue?

Baer: There’s been very clear over-the-top effort to include the Europeans at every step — meetings with them before each meeting and after each meeting, to force conversations into fora that are more inclusive and stuff like that. And I think that Secretary Blinken is rightly recognizing the need to kind of play a role of kind of keeping everybody on the side while we test whether diplomacy whether there’s anything to do, whether there’s any promise with diplomacy.

I think there’s kind of, sometimes kind of, two camps in U.S. foreign policy circles. One is like: We should give the Russians what they want because it just doesn’t matter that much. War is much worse than anything that we would give them. And another is that we can’t give them an inch and we have to punch them in the face whenever we can. And I think both of those are kind of knee-jerk positions that have become a bit religious for people and neither of them is paying attention to the practical challenge that’s in front of the administration, which is like this guy’s threatening to invade and we need to identify whether there’s any opportunity for a functional off ramp, and that doesn’t mean we do that in a vacuum and ignore the long-term consequences, but our problem is not a religious one, it’s a practical one. And I think they’re doing a pretty good job of threading the needle on that and being not too far forward and not too far back.

Blade: Do you see any significant daylight between the United States and Europe?

Baer: No, I mean, no more than the minimum that is possible. There’s a lot of talk about Germany these days. Look, I think some of the things they say are not particularly helpful, but I don’t actually think that in the long run, if Putin invaded, I don’t think that they would hold up sanctions or anything like that. So I think they’re on our side, even if they’re talking out of both sides, in some cases.

Blade: I am wise to the fact that this is a nuclear power. It might be a little old school, but could escalation get that far?

Baer: There can’t be war. There can’t be war between NATO and Russia. It should be avoided. Obviously, there can be, but it should be avoided.

Blade: How committed do you think President Biden is to protecting Ukraine?

Baer: Reasonably so. I think he’s enough of an old school trans-Atlantist that he understands that this isn’t just about Ukraine.

Blade: I was wondering because he had those comments from his press conference about “minor incursion” and I’m just wondering if you’re reading anything into that or not.

Baer: No, I think that was that was a — I think broadly speaking, everything he says is in line with the kind of view that you would expect. And of course, one sentence can catch [attention]. That wasn’t what he meant. What he meant was that he didn’t want to draw a “red line” that would prejudge policy in response to something short of the most extreme scenario.

I think it is a good caution to not obsess over a single sentence and to look at the broad considered policy statements.

Blade: What do you think if you were looking for developments, like what would you be looking out for is significant in terms of where we are going to be going in the near future? This is one thing to keep an eye out for but is there anything else that you are kind of looking out for in terms of the near future?

Baer: I guess I would look out for whether or not the United States joins meetings of the so-called Normandy Format, which is the France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia grouping, which has so far been unsuccessful, but I think can only be successful as the United States joins it, but the Russians, I think have misgivings with the idea of our joining it.

Blade: I’m not at all familiar with that. What makes this forum particularly so —

Baer: So it was started in the summer in like June of 2015, on the margins of some meeting between Merkel and Hollande. The French and the Germans are very committed to the idea that they might be able to mediate peace between Ukraine and Russia. It was supposed to implement the Minsk Agreement, and it just hasn’t been productive so far. I don’t think that the Russians will do anything — I don’t think the Ukrainians feel comfortable negotiating anything without the Americans at the table. And I don’t think the Russians feel like anything is guaranteed without the Americans at the table. So I just, I’m fine with France and Germany taking the lead, but I think the U.S. has to be there.

And there was a meeting of this group in Paris yesterday, and which the U.S. was supportive of, and so I’m watching to see whether or not the United States gets added in some ad hoc way, whether there are future meetings. I guess the reason I would watch it, if the U.S. were to join future meetings that would signal to me that it’s actually there’s some diplomacy happening there.

That’s meant to be focusing mainly on the existing Russian invasion, the occupation of the Donbas, so that’s not about the threat of the new invasion, but it would be interesting to me if there was forward movement on other parts of Ukraine. The announcement of the American ambassador is one. I think that last week movement of troops into Belarus was a game changer for the U.S., because there are all kinds of new implications if you’re using a third country as your launchpad for war, and so it complicates things and it also looks more serious if you’re starting to deploy to third countries and stuff like that. So I think that was that last week, you noticed a difference in the U.S. tone and tenor in response to that.

So things like that. But in general, like what I would do and I don’t think people always catch this is because there’s a boiling frog aspect to it. There are statements coming out from the White House or State Department. Almost every day on stuff related to this and like last week, there was a noticeable change in the tenor as the U.S. became less, I think more pessimistic about the prospects of diplomacy and those I don’t have anything better to look for in those statements as tea leaves, in terms of what the U.S. assessment is of the prospects of the escalation are, so it’s bad.

Blade: Right. That’s very sobering.

There’s a lot of talk, and I’ve just been seeing some like about in terms of, there’s like comparisons to Afghanistan and making sure that all Americans are able to get out of Ukraine. Is that comparing apples to oranges?

Baer: Yes.

Blade: And could you unpack that a little bit? I mean, I can kind of guess the reasons why. How is that apples to oranges?

Blade: Well, the level of development in Ukraine in terms of infrastructure and transport and stuff like that is not comparable to Afghanistan. I think it would be– if there were a Russian invasion–you would definitely want to, obviously, for safety reasons, it’s not safe to be in a war zone, so you would want people to be able to evacuate and you’d have to plan for that.

A major concern [in Afghanistan] was also that there were tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of locals who had worked for the Americans. The Americans that are in Ukraine are not a departing occupying power. There’s just not the same footprint there — the Americans are in Ukraine or there as business people or young [people working on] democracy assistance or whatever. And it’s just it’s a different context.

Blade: Why do you think the Russians put up with Putin? I mean, this is a country that was a world power and I would think has some economic potential just given its sheer size, first of all, and they do have oil to offer people. So why aren’t the Russians like angry at him for obstructing their participation in the global order as opposed to just putting up with him for years and years and years.

Baer: Successful instrumentalisation of cynicism. The lack of a belief in an alternative will keep you from fighting for it.

Blade: That’s pretty succinct.

Baer: I mean, I don’t think there’s any question that the people of Russia could be better off or different in terms of kitchen table issues, and ease of navigating the world, prospects for their future for their children’s future. The amount of money that Putin has invested into military modernization that Russia can ill afford, while he’s cut pensions and social services and health care. It’s just it’s objectively true that the average Russian person would be better served by a different leader. But he’s done a very good job of effectively selling off the country for profit and persuading people through repression and propaganda that there is no alternative.

Blade: And Putin won’t be around forever. Once he finally goes, is an alternative going to emerge, or will it be the next guy in Putin’s mold?

Baer: I think it’s far from clear that what comes after Putin isn’t worse and bloody. Regimes like this don’t reliably have stable transitions.

Blade: Wow, okay.

Baer: Yeah, we shouldn’t… we should be careful about wishing… wishing for his demise.

Blade: That’s good to know. It’s kind of a frightful note for me to end my questions. But actually before I sign off, there’s one more thing too because I do kind of want to talk about the intersection about your old job in democracy and human rights and then a Venn diagram of that with your experience in Eastern Europe in particular. Do you have a sense of what’s at stake for LGBTQ people in Ukraine or if they’re in more danger right now than they would be otherwise?

Baer: That’s a good question. I mean, my knee jerk reaction is yes. That — as mixed of a picture as Ukraine has been in the last seven years, or eight years — there have been meaningful steps forward, and certainly, in terms of visibility.

I guess, in the sense that Ukraine is better than Russia today, if you’re gay, if Russia is going to occupy or control Ukraine we can expect that it will get worse because it will become more like Russia.

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Trump ribbed Pence for thinking ‘it’s a crime to be gay,’ new book says

Former president openly wanted gay Fox News analyst for Supreme Court

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Donald Trump (left) ribbed former Vice President Mike Pence (center) in a meeting with Andrew Napolitano for thinking "it's a crime to be gay." (Blade photos of Donald Trump and Mike Pence by Michael Key; screen capture of Andrew Napolitano via Fox News YouTube)

Donald Trump, in the days before he took office after the 2016 election, openly contemplated naming an openly gay Fox News contributor to the U.S. Supreme Court amid concerns from social conservatives about his potential choices and ribbed former Vice President Mike Pence for thinking “it’s a crime to be gay,” according to the new book “Insurgency” detailing the former president’s path to the White House.

The key moment between Trump, Judge Andrew Napolitano and Pence took place during the transition period after the 2016 election when Trump invited the other two for a meeting at Trump Tower.  That’s when Trump reportedly took the jab at Pence.

“During their meeting, for part of which Mike Pence was present, Trump ribbed Pence for his anti-gay rights views,” the book says. “Addressing Napolitano, Trump gestured toward the archconservative vice-president-elect and said, ‘You’d better be careful because this guy thinks it’s a crime to be gay. Right, Mike?’ When Pence didn’t answer, Trump repeated himself, ‘Right, Mike?’ Pence remained silent.”

The potential choice of Andrew Napolitano, who was fired last year from Fox News amid recently dropped allegations of sexual harassment from male co-workers, as well as other TV personalities Trump floated for the Supreme Court, as detailed in the book, were among the many reasons conservatives feared he wouldn’t be reliable upon taking the presidency. Ironically, Trump would have been responsible for making a historic choice for diversity if he chose a gay man like Napolitano for the Supreme Court, beating President Biden to the punch as the nation awaits his selection of the first-ever Black woman for the bench.

The new book — fully titled “Insurgency: How Republicans Lost Their Party and Got Everything They Ever Wanted” and written by New York Times political reporter Jeremy Peters, who is also gay — identifies Trump’s potential picks for the judiciary as a source of significant concern for conservatives as the “Never Trump” movement was beginning to form and expectations were the next president would be able to name as many as four choices for the Supreme Court. Among the wide ranges of possible choices he floated during the campaign were often “not lawyers or judges he admired for their legal philosophies or interpretations of the Constitution,” but personalities he saw on TV.

Among this group of TV personalities, the books says, were people like Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, whom Trump “regularly watched and occasionally planned his flight schedule around, directing his personal pilot to adjust the route accordingly so the satellite signal wouldn’t fade.” Trump told friends Pirro “would make a fine justice,” the books says.

Trump potentially making good of his talk about naming Napolitano as one of his choices for the Supreme Court “would have been doubly unacceptable to many on the religious right,” the book says. Napolitano, a former New Jersey Superior Court judge, was friendly with Maryanne Trump Barry, Trump’s sister and a federal judge with a reputation for liberal views, such as a ruling in favor of partial-birth abortion, and is also gay, both of which are identified in the book as potential concerns by the religious right.

Napolitano and Trump were close, the book claims. Napolitano, as the book describes, had a habit of telling a story to friends about Trump confiding to him the future president’s knowledge of the law was based on Napolitano’s TV appearances. Trump told Napolitano: “Everything I know about the Constitution I learned from you on Fox & Friends,” the book says.

The book says the meeting with Trump, Pence and Napolitano when the former president took a jab at Pence in and of itself suggested Trump “was indeed serious about giving the judge some kind of position in the government.” Napolitano, known for making outlandish claims as a Fox News contributor —such as the British government wiretapped Trump Tower — never took a post in the Trump administration.

The new book isn’t the only record of Trump ribbing Pence for his anti-LGBTQ reputation. A New Yorker profile in 2017 depicted a similar infamous meeting with Trump and Pence in which the former president joked about his No. 2’s conservative views. Per the New Yorker article: “When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, ‘Don’t ask that guy— he wants to hang them all!'”The incident described in “Insurgency” was similar to the meeting detailed in the New Yorker profile.

Trump ended up making a list of names he pledged he’d limit himself to in the event he was in the position to make a selection to the Supreme Court and made good on that promise based on his selection. By the end of his presidency, Trump made three picks to the bench who were each confirmed by the U.S. Senate: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. 

But Trump limiting his options to the list of potential plans was not a fool proof plan for conservatives. To the surprise of many, Gorsuch ended up in 2020 writing the majority opinion in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County, a major LGBTQ rights decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which determined anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and illegal under federal civil rights law.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with Trump’s office seeking comment on the meeting with Pence and Napolitano as described in “Insurgency.” Napolitano couldn’t be reached for comment.

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