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Now in its seventh year, the Mountain Men of Alaska calendar has become an Alaska institution

1 hour 4 min ago

The 2022 Mountain Men of Alaska calendar features cover model Brian Belcher. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

Mountain Men of Alaska calendars originally began as a one-year project for owner and creator Kayce James. It has since turned into an Alaska institution and James’ primary source of income since its beginning in 2016.

The calendar features an array of men — often wearing little to no clothing — in front of scenic Alaska backdrops doing everything from juggling flamethrowers to beekeeping and skijoring.

James wanted to showcase the comical and vulnerable side of Alaska’s men in all their shapes, sizes and sexualities and thus Mountain Men of Alaska was born.

“I had a lot of guy friends that didn’t really fit the mold of what people think Alaskan men are,” she said. “I made a practice calendar and I jokingly just called it Mountain Men Gone Wild or something like that,” she said.

She gave the calendars to friends and ended up with a spare one.

James posted it to social media and said she would give it to the person who gave the best reason for wanting the calendar. Responses filled the comment section and it was then that she knew she might have something.

Tom Miller, a friend James credits with a lot of the businesses’ success, encouraged James to pursue the endeavor.

She started by photographing friends but when the calendars gained popularity people began reaching out and asked to be photographed — including men up to their 80s.

[Curious Alaska: Are there really a lot more men than women in this state?]

In high school, James became interested in photography and took local college courses to learn more about the trade.

“I’ve always been self conscious of my photography, but that’s the glory of the calendar because you only need one or two shots,” she said. “I credit my imagination for a lot of it.”

Mountain Men of Alaska has gained more than 40,000 followers online and has been shipped around the world to places like Australia, the United Kingdom and Norway.

“Honestly, I don’t think it would have gone that far without social media,” she said.

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Her calendars — designed by Alaskan graphic designer and illustrator Sarah K. Glaser — are a hot commodity for tourists and locals alike and can be found in almost every city across the state from Fairbanks to Ketchikan.

The 2016 cover image featured a naked man driving a team of sled dogs through a snow-covered valley. One month featured a man curled up next to musk ox named Guacamole.

Another featured Ronn Hemstock, photographed the year after he was attacked by a brown bear, in his shredded Carhartt jacket. Future calendars will feature spearfishing and a tea party with a llama, James said.

Needless to say, the scenes are quirky and full moons abound.

Work has already begun for the 2023 calendar — James completed her fifth photoshoot on a recent Sunday evening in Cooper Landing.

While operating Kenai River Dog, James’ second business that offers scenic float trips, she watched JJ Brown and his partner Amy Brodersen cart their three dogs — Stella, Gussie and Sawyer — around Cooper Landing in their yellow ‘71 Volvo Sedan as they shuttled rafts. This scene inspired her to make a photograph.

Sitting on the bow of her 16-foot cataraft, James photographed Brown, owner and guide of Kenai River Trout Anglers, as he stood shirtless in his boat, surrounded by a group of five indifferent dogs.

Kayce James photographs JJ Brown, who is surrounded by dogs Stella, Po, Gussie, Sawyer and Leo. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

For years James has said yes to adventures as she continues working on her calendars. Her most memorable shoot came by chance in Deadhorse and featured a naked helicopter pilot and photographer on an Arctic hillside.

“I think that one really sticks out,” she said laughing as she paddled down the turquoise water. Bright red spawning salmon swam past.

At a bend in the river anglers waded in water as a dog ran along the riverbank.

“That’s Fiona!” James said. She paddled closer to find David Maternowski and announced him as Mr. Cover Model, 2017. He laughed and waved back as he reeled his line in.

Kayce James on the Kenai River. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

In addition to 12 months of Mountain Men, this year’s calendar also features cutout paper clothing designed by Glaser to make the calendar office-appropriate.

James dreams of selling her calendars in Deadhorse and hopes to include more diversity in the coming years. She plans to run it as long as she can and as long as interest remains.

For Mr. December— a.k.a Timothy Agnew — modeling in the calendar has been fun and a way to help represent people who look like him.

“I like what she’s doing,” he said. “I think it’s shedding a positive light on the differences of people everywhere.”

Agnew estimates temperatures were hovering between 10 and 15 degrees last year during the photoshoot in Girdwood as he posed in nothing but a Santa Claus hat and boxers.

From a bridge nearby, a small crowd gathered and watched the photoshoot.

“It made me feel good because I have a lot of friends who tell me, ‘You are representing guys our size’,” Agnew said. “You rarely see big guys out there, running around there in the middle of winter in boxers.”

James found Agnew through his Instagram page and after talking with a mutual friend decided he would be a good fit for the calendar.

“There’s a big shift going on where all body types are starting to be accepted more,” Agnew said. “There’s so much more to this place. It’s good to see... (that) represented.”

Timothy Agnew photographed at Lake Hood in Anchorage on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

In 1940, the artist Sydney Laurence predicted his own death. He was only off by hours.

1 hour 36 min ago

Part of a continuing weekly series on local history by local historian David Reamer. Have a question about Anchorage history or an idea for a future article? Go to the form at the bottom of this story.

Photo of Sydney Laurence in 1914 (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On Sept. 11, 1940, famed Alaska painter Sydney Laurence woke early, as was his habit. He bathed, dressed and then breakfasted with his wife, Jeanne, in their Anchorage home. After eating, he prepared for a trip to the barber. It was a morning like countless others for Sydney and Jeanne, otherwise indistinguishable except for one sad truth. It was their last morning together. Though he hesitated to tell his wife, Sydney knew he was about to die.

Sydney Mortimer Laurence was born on Oct. 14, 1865, in Brooklyn, New York. His father was in the insurance business; his mother also was an artist. The grandson of an English admiral, the schoolboy Sydney studied at a military academy in Peekskill, New York. There, his observers first diagnosed his artistic ability. Connections were utilized, and Laurence became the first pupil accepted by the well-known maritime painter Edward Moran (1829-1901). Not coincidentally, the careful and accurate depictions of water became, if not a calling card, then at least a notable attribute of Laurence’s mature work.

According to some reports, he stowed away on a freighter around the age of 17, possibly inspired by a combination of his grandfather, Moran, a yachting father, and a general admiration for the sea. While the accounts vary wildly on some points, he reportedly spent the next four years sailing around the world.

He visited Alaska for the first time sometime around 1903. For the next several years, he was here, there and almost everywhere. He first found work as a photographer in Juneau but later wound up in Tyonek, Valdez, Seward, Seldovia, Ninilchik, Beluga and Cordova, among other temporary homes. There were also several short sojourns back in the Lower 48. In Alaska, he washed dishes, took photos, mined and, of course, painted. His earliest known Alaska work is from 1905: “Tyonek, Alaska.” The painting depicts a stream emptying into the Cook Inlet.

Like many other fortune hunters, he made his way to Anchorage in 1915, where he worked for the railroad, prospected and took many of the oldest images of the new town. By 1920, he had his own photography studio.

H. Wendy Jones offered an apocryphal-sounding story about this period in her 1962 book, “The Man and the Mountain.” A stranger entered Laurence’s studio. The visitor was apparently not overwhelmed by the photography but was impressed by several paintings in the shop. “Who did these paintings?” asked the stranger. “I did,” Laurence replied. The stranger retorted, “Then what are you doing in a photo shop?”

By 1922, he was able to close the studio and paint full-time. His reputation as Alaska’s foremost artist was cemented in 1923. That year, President Warren Harding bought one of his paintings during a visit to ceremonially open the Alaska Railroad. In 1928, he married a French artist, Jeanne Kunath Holeman (1887-1980).

During his lifetime, his paintings, primarily Alaska landscapes dominated by cabins, ships, mountains and the northern lights, were sold in stores and galleries around the country. Today, his works hang in some of the most distinguished museums in the world, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France.

"Mt. McKinley from the Rapids of the Tokosheetna River" 1929, oil on canvas, by Sydney Laurence. Image courtesy Anchorage Museum. (On long-term loan to the Museum by Alaska Airlines.)

By 1940, his health had been in decline for several years. During the 1930s, he made an increasing number of joking — seemingly joking — comments about his imminent death. Though he remained spry enough, he acknowledged increasing fatigue, what he described as a “loss of pep.” To be fair, he was deep into his 70s by then.

His friends downplayed the concerns. Their understanding was perhaps limited by Laurence’s good-natured, humble approach to a looming mortality. What for others would be an opportunity for an admittedly earned complaint was, for Laurence, a chance for a self-deprecating wisecrack. His mood remained the same despite the loss of energy. Any event, whether positive or negative, was a chance for a joke and a smile. There was nothing he could not laugh at, his death included.

His acceptance of the ultimately inevitable did not mean he had nothing to live for. Apart from his beloved wife and numerous friends, he eagerly anticipated what would have been his 75th birthday nearly a month later. The Louvre planned to hang one of his paintings in 1944. If he had lived those four extra years, he would have been the first living artist to experience the honor. But he knew his time had come.

The following quotes from his last hours are taken from contemporary Anchorage Daily Times coverage and Jeanne Laurence’s account of the day, the latter published in the 1974 book, “My Life with Sydney.”

Shortly after noon, he contacted one of his many friends, Esther Able, about a commissioned work. He had promised her a painting of the northern lights as a Christmas gift for her husband. Laurence had twice sold the painting intended for her to tourists, always with the thought that he could paint another.

Laurence asked her, “Esther, do you want to buy the painting from me?” She replied, “Certainly I want to buy it from you. Don’t you sell it again like you’ve done twice before. You know it is to be Bill’s Christmas gift.” Laurence then advised her to buy it that day. “Tomorrow will be too late,” he said, “if you want to buy it from me.” She downplayed his fears. “What are you talking about, Sydney? I’ll bet you will outlive us. I’ll get the painting on Christmas and from you.”

Later in the afternoon, he visited his barber and, surrounded by friends and long acquaintances, announced “getting prettied up to die.” He told the barber, “Give the old boy a good shave and haircut; it will be the last one.” After his turn in the chair, he smiled and saluted the image in the mirror, saying, “Goodbye, old boy.”

Before returning to his studio, he visited Jeanne again. He ran his fingers through her hair and said, “Kid, I am mighty proud of you. You have worked hard going slowly up the ladder step by step; now you are over the last rung and you will always make it. Now I can close my eyes in peace. This is my last day on earth.”

Jeanne recalled replying, “Oh, no! You must not talk like that. I want you to stay with me for many, many years and see the completion of the wildflower book. I think you are just tired and do not feel too well today.” Sydney responded, “You bet I am tired. I have no pain, but I feel life slowly oozing out of my body.”

Back in his studio, he spent some time talking to another longtime friend, a nurse who worked at Providence Hospital. In a small town like Anchorage, Providence was still considered the new hospital. It had opened in 1937 at its original Ninth Avenue and L Street downtown location. He asked and received confirmation that he could have a private room with a bath at the hospital. “That is what I am going to do,” he declared. As he told Jeanne, the hospital was better than a hotel; “The hotel doesn’t like stiffs hanging around.”

Jeanne made the necessary arrangements, and by four o’clock that evening, he was ensconced in his private room. Jeanne spent the remainder of the visiting hours by Sydney’s side. When she finally rose to depart, he seized her within his arms and kissed her one last time. She told him, “Good night.” He said, “It’s goodbye this time. I won’t be here tomorrow.”

Around six in the morning, he woke, seeming well-rested. He ate, smoked and read for a few minutes. Yes, a patient could smoke in a hospital in those days. Then, he rose from the bed and reached for his heart medicine. That is when the stroke hit. His unconscious body collapsed to the floor.

Around 6:30 that morning, a nurse notified Jeanne that Sydney had taken a turn for the worse. She arrived to find him in a coma, unresponsive to her tearful pleas. He passed shortly before noon, off only slightly in his original prediction. The Daily Times reported, “The artist died as quietly as he lived. He suffered none.”

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Key sources:

Jones, H. Wendy. The Man the Mountain: Life of Sydney Laurence. Anchorage: Alaskan Publishing and Graphic Arts Press, 1962.

Laurence, Jeanne. My Life with Sydney Laurence. Seattle: Superior Publishing Company, 1974.

Parham, Bruce, and Walter Van Horn. “Laurence, Sydney.” Cook Inlet Historical Society, Legends & Legacies, 1910-1940,

“Sydney Laurence Dies.” Anchorage Daily Times, September 12, 1940, 1, 8.

Woodward, Kesler E. Sydney Laurence, Painter of the North. Anchorage: Anchorage Museum Association, 1990.

As COVID cases surge in Alaska, political strife escalates between Gov. Mike Dunleavy and his opponents

2 hours 7 min ago

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy listens to a question from a reporter on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021 at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. (James Brooks / ADN)

As Alaska faces a record surge of COVID-19 infections that has overwhelmed the state’s hospitals, state public health officials say vaccination and masking are the best ways to limit and end the surge.

While other states have aggressively pushed both methods with incentives or mandates, the administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy has preferred a voluntary approach.

In the last months of 2020 and the first months of 2021, the governor unequivocally endorsed vaccination and said it is the best way to get through the pandemic.

But as new vaccination rates slowed and Republican views of the vaccination soured, the governor’s messaging appeared to change. While he has unequivocally endorsed vaccination, he more frequently talks about it in conditional terms, saying Alaskans should talk to their doctors about getting vaccinated or should consider vaccination.

The governor’s political opponents and independent observers see a straightforward motive: Dunleavy is running for reelection as a Republican, most of his supporters are Republicans, and Republicans are much more likely than independents and Democrats to be skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccination and public health efforts.

On Wednesday, Dunleavy said he is not acting with political motives, but others, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Les Gara, a former Anchorage state representative, are acting politically by criticizing his approach.

“Absolutely, it’s about elections. And that’s a pox on their house. When you’re in the midst of a pandemic, and cases are rising, and people are going to the hospital. That is pure politics. 100% pure politics,” Dunleavy said.

[Alaska Gov. Dunleavy activates statewide crisis standards of care to help COVID-overwhelmed hospitals]

Gara, whose spouse is a hospital worker, said he has asked Dunleavy for months to listen to the advice of medical professionals. He said the governor’s decision to not push harder on vaccinations is a political act.

“That’s him politicizing things and him ducking responsibility for a job that I’m happy to take if he doesn’t want to do it,” Gara said.

“Disposable masks and vaccination is how we beat this pandemic,” he said.

Former Gov. Bill Walker, running as an independent in next year’s election, said he thought Dunleavy did well with the state’s initial response to the pandemic, “but then the politics seemed to creep in.”

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage talks with a fellow legislator in January 2017 at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. Gara is now a candidate for governor. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News) (Alaska Dispatch News/)

The argument has potential to become a big issue in next year’s election campaign, but it could affect decisions involving the health of Alaskans.

The vast majority of Alaska’s cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been among people who are unvaccinated, according to public health officials here.

There doesn’t appear to be recent public-opinion polling in Alaska that’s examined Republican and Democratic attitudes on masking and vaccination, but national surveys have repeatedly found a sharp divide.

This month, a Pew Research Center poll concluded that 86% of Democrats and independents who lean toward the Democratic Party have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared with 60% of Republicans and Republican leaners.

Marc Hellenthal, a longtime Alaska political consultant, said he has no reason to believe that the trend is different in Alaska.

Alaskans used to be slightly different from the rest of the country, Hellenthal said, but because Alaskans now get their information from the same national sources as the rest of the country, that has changed.

“Now, basically our national news is our local news,” he said.

“The (Matanuska-Susitna) Valley is heavy Republican and has one of the lowest rates of vaccination in the entire state. That really highlights the theme: Politics has taken over medicine. Now, politicians tend to be our local doctors,” Hellenthal said.

In early 2021, as the first vaccinations began to be distributed, Dunleavy said voluntary vaccination would be the key to ending the pandemic.

“Now it’s time to make the final push. With over 310 million shots administered worldwide, the safety and efficacy of available vaccines has been well established. All three provide excellent protection against severe COVID infections,” he said in March.

On April 2, Dunleavy appeared in a TV commercial urging Alaskans to get vaccinated.

“If you’re 16 or older, join me, receive the vaccine, and get Alaska up and running,” he said.

That commercial hasn’t run on TV or radio since May 22. That’s a time when political differences over vaccination began to widen nationally, according to figures published by Kaiser Family Foundation.

In Alaska, the rate of new vaccinations has slowed significantly. Between Jan. 13 and May 22, about 329,000 Alaskans received at least one dose of the vaccine. In the four months since then, fewer than 90,000 additional residents have gotten at least one dose.

Once a national leader in vaccination rates, the state is now below the national average.

The rate of new vaccinations has risen since the start of September, but it remains well below what it was at the start of the year.

Patty Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Dunleavy “will appear in upcoming COVID-19 PSA ads. Among his messages, he highlights that vaccines are readily available to all Alaskans and urges cautious behavior to help the strain on hospitals.”

In recent radio and TV interviews, the governor has frequently said Alaskans should talk to their doctor and give “serious thought” to getting vaccinated. He did so again on Wednesday.

That’s softer wording than public health officials have used.

“Prevention is way cheaper, way easier and it’s going to be the thing that’s going to get us out of the pandemic as quickly as possible. The biggest thing is COVID-19 vaccinations, and boosters when they’re available and you’re eligible,” Zink said.

Asked Wednesday whether he will make a stronger push, Dunleavy said, “I’ve said on countless occasions that Alaskans should seriously consider getting a vaccination if they have not. I’m not going to berate Alaskans. I’m not going to yell at Alaskans. I’m not going to cajole Alaskans.”

Walker said he’s worried that Dunleavy isn’t following the advice of medical experts.

On Sept. 1, the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association sent a letter to the state with 10 urgent requests. The state’s response said it has enacted solutions to all but two, those dealing with masking and vaccination.

“All I can say is it certainly appears he’s favoring his political base rather than the health of Alaskans,” Walker said.

FILE - In this Oct. 18, 2018, file photo, then-Alaska Gov. Bill Walker addresses delegates at the annual Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File) (Mark Thiessen/)

Walker said the state should be “much, much more aggressive on the urging of the vaccinations” and suggested that Maryland and Massachusetts — two states with Republican governors — are examples to follow.

In Maryland, state employees are being paid a $100 bonus if they get vaccinated, the state is running a multimillion-dollar lottery for adults who get vaccinated, and younger state residents are eligible for a scholarship lottery. Many local cities and counties are also offering cash incentives to get vaccinated.

Here in Alaska, the Alaska Chamber of Commerce is operating a small-scale lottery drawing, funded with federal money distributed by the state, but there are no state-level cash incentives.

“The governor has not taken a position on the raffle,” Sullivan said. She said his administration has not considered a cash incentive for either state employees or members of the public.

“The administration is not preparing any cash incentive program urging the public to get vaccinated. The Chamber is already undertaking this,” Sullivan said.

“I think Dunleavy is walking the tightrope as delicately as he can,” said Ivan Moore, a political analyst in Anchorage.

He, Moore, Gara and Walker each said they don’t know whether the COVID pandemic will be a major issue in next year’s election.

“It depends whether we’re still in it, or whether it’s history by then,” Moore said.

Regardless of what happens next year, COVID-19’s political divides have already had major effects. Zink said health care workers “have been physically threatened, and violently attacked at times ... in situations and circumstances they’ve never seen in their careers.”

“I’ll just say that I feel like the biggest tragedy that has come of this is the polarization and the politicization of this issue,” said Dr. Kristen Solana Walkinshaw, chief of staff at Providence Alaska Medical Center, during a public radio call-in show this week.

“You know, it’s about science, and we have made it about politics,” she said. “And it is so unfortunate because people are suffering everywhere.”

CDC director warns of ‘dire straits’ in COVID-hit areas of US

2 hours 58 min ago

Dr. William Dittrich M.D. looks over a COVID-19 patient in the Medical Intensive care unit (MICU) at St. Luke's Boise Medical Center in Boise, Idaho on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021.. More then half of the patients in the ICU are COVID-19 positive, none of which are vaccinated. (AP Photo/Kyle Green) (Kyle Green/)

WASHINGTON — Parts of the U.S. health system “are in dire straits,” as the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant forces some states to prepare for rationed medical care, said Rochelle Walensky, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“That means that we are talking about who is going to get a ventilator, who is going to get an ICU bed,” Walensky said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “Those are not easy discussions to have, and that is not a place we want our health care system to ever be.”

Idaho, among the United States’ least-vaccinated states, and Alaska have said that hospitals can begin to ration medical care if needed. A major hospital in Montana also implemented so-called “crisis of care standards” to prioritize who is treated. Health officials warned the measure could be widened across the state.

The delta surge has moved in intensity around the U.S., now hitting the northwest. Nationwide, the number of people dying in hospitals appears to have peaked, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Service data.

Walensky defended her decision last week to overrule a panel of CDC advisers and broaden eligibility for third shots of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine.

The panel approved boosters for those ages 65 and older, those in long-term health-care facilities and those ages 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions. The CDC head went further, ruling that people at high risk of exposure at work or elsewhere may also receive a third dose.

She called her decision “a scientific close call.”

“I felt it was appropriate for those people to also be eligible for boosters,” she said.

Walensky said she hoped it would be safe for children to go trick-or-treating this Halloween.

“If you’re able to be outdoors, absolutely,” she said. “Limit crowds. I wouldn’t necessarily go to a crowded Halloween party, but I think that we should be able to let our kids go trick or treating in small groups.”

Merkel’s bloc stumbles badly in Germany; horse-trading ahead

3 hours 1 min ago

Olaf Scholz, Finance Minister and SPD candidate for Chancellor waves to his supporters after German parliament election at the Social Democratic Party, SPD, headquarters in Berlin, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn) (Michael Sohn/)

BERLIN — Germany’s center-left Social Democrats and outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel ‘s center-right bloc both laid claim Sunday to lead the country’s next government as projections showed the long-time leader’s party heading for its worst-ever result in a national election.

The outcome appeared to put Europe’s biggest economy on course for lengthy haggling to form a new government, while Merkel stays on in a caretaker role until a successor is sworn in. A three-party governing coalition, with two opposition parties that have traditionally been in rival ideological camps — the environmentalist Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats — would provide the likeliest route to power for both leading candidates.

Only one of the three candidates to succeed Merkel, who chose not to run for a fifth term, looked happy after Sunday’s vote: the Social Democrats’ Olaf Scholz, the outgoing vice chancellor and finance minister who pulled his party out of a years-long slump.

Scholz said the predicted results were “a very clear mandate to ensure now that we put together a good, pragmatic government for Germany.”

The Greens made their first bid for the chancellery with co-leader Annalena Baerbock, who fell well short of overtaking Germany’s two traditional big parties after a gaffe-strewn campaign. Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state who outmaneuvered a more popular rival to secure the nomination of Merkel’s Union bloc, struggled to motivate the party’s base and made missteps of his own.

Projections from ARD public television, based on exit polls and early counting, put voters’ support at 25.7% for the Social Democrats and 24.5% for the Union. Separate projections for ZDF public television had the Social Democrats ahead by 26% to 24.5%. No winning party in a German national election had previously taken less than 31% of the vote.

Both projections gave the Greens about 14% and the Free Democrats 12%.

“Of course, this is a loss of votes that isn’t pretty,” Laschet said of results that looked set to undercut by a distance the Union’s previous worst showing of 31% in 1949. But with Merkel departing after 16 years in power, “no one had an incumbent bonus in this election,” he noted.

Laschet earlier told cheering supporters that “we will do everything we can to form a government under the Union’s leadership, because Germany now needs a coalition for the future that modernizes our country.”

Now it looks like both Laschet and Scholz will be courting the same two parties. The Greens traditionally lean toward the Social Democrats and the Free Democrats toward the Union, but neither ruled out going the other way.

The other option was a repeat of the outgoing “grand coalition” of the Union and Social Democrats that has run Germany for 12 of Merkel’s 16 years in power, but there was little obvious appetite for that after years of government squabbling.

“Everyone thinks that ... this ‘grand coalition’ isn’t promising for the future, regardless of who is No. 1 and No. 2,” Laschet said. “We need a real new beginning.”

The Free Democrats’ leader, Christian Lindner, also appeared keen to govern, making an overture toward the Greens.

“About 75% of Germans didn’t vote for the next chancellor’s party,” Lindner said in a discussion on ZDF television with all parties’ leaders. “So it might be advisable ... that the Greens and Free Democrats first speak to each other to structure everything that follows.”

Baerbock insisted that “the climate crisis ... is the leading issue of the next government, and that is for us the basis for any talks ... even if we aren’t totally satisfied with our result.”

While the Greens improved their support from the last election in 2017, they had higher expectations for Sunday’s vote.

Two parties weren’t in contention to join Germany’s next government. The Left Party was projected to win only 5%, the bare minimum needed to remain in parliament. The far-right Alternative for Germany — which no one else wants to work with — was seen winning around 11%, below the 12.6% showing that allowed it to enter parliament for the first time in 2017.

Merkel, who has won plaudits for steering Germany through several major crises, won’t be an easy leader to follow. Her successor will have to oversee the country’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, which Germany so far has weathered relatively well thanks to large rescue programs.

Laschet insists there should be no tax increases as Germany pulls out of the pandemic. Scholz and Baerbock favor tax hikes for the richest Germans and also back an increase in the minimum wage.

Germany’s leading parties have significant differences in their proposals for tackling climate change. Laschet’s Union bloc is pinning its hopes on technological solutions and a market-driven approach, while the Greens want to ramp up carbon prices and end the use of coal earlier than planned. Scholz has emphasized the need to protect jobs as Germany transitions to greener energy.

Foreign policy didn’t feature much in the campaign, although the Greens favor a tougher stance toward China and Russia.

Whichever parties form the next German government, the Free Democrats’ Lindner said it was “good news” that it would have a majority with centrist parties.

“All of those in Europe and beyond who were worried about Germany’s stability can now see: Germany will be stable in any case,” he said.

In two regional elections also held Sunday, the Greens were vying with the Social Democrats for the post of Berlin mayor, which the Social Democrats have held for two decades. The Social Democrats were set for a strong win in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania.

Long COVID gains recognition, but more is needed

6 hours 27 min ago

Long COVID patient Gary Miller, left, receives treatment from physiotherapist Joan Del Arco at the Long COVID Clinic at King George Hospital in Ilford, London, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. The clinic has been set up to help patients suffering months after they were infected with COVID-19. It's one of 83 "long COVID" clinics in England where medics and patients are grappling with the enduring effects of the virus. For taxi driver Miller, recovery is agonizingly slow. He says there are times "I feel like I'm taking one step forward, and then all of a sudden — bang — I'm ill again and I take two steps back." (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth) (Kirsty Wigglesworth/)

The Biden Administration recently announced that it would acknowledge long COVID as a disability, providing long COVID sufferers legal protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, and earlier this year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced it is investing $1.15 billion over the next four years in long COVID research. In another important, although perhaps less headline-grabbing development, the World Health Organization (WHO) assigned long COVID its own defined ICD-10 code, the system of diagnostic codes that health care practitioners use for reimbursement from patients’ medical insurance companies, which are critical to providing patients with access to treatment. Without standard codes, patients have been hit with unexpected bills and left to navigate the bureaucracy of medical insurance reimbursement on their own. The medical establishment has also acknowledge the need for further research and the scope of long COVID as a public health crisis, as articulated in a recent editorial by The Lancet.

These are all promising developments, which accelerate medical research and grant access to much-needed resources and protections for long haulers. Legal protections and access to disability benefits through the Social Security Administration are especially critical, as many long haulers have been unable to work at times, and often require accommodations from their employers. Perhaps equally important, they help to reframe the issue of long COVID as a serious population-wide public health crisis. Too long dismissed by physicians, long COVID is now understood to affect about a third of people who recover from initial infection with COVID-19. A recent paper in The Lancet showed that 68% of some of the earliest hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, China experienced one or more COVID symptom six months after their initial infection.

In my own research and treatment experience with long COVID patients, many are unable to work and are overwhelmed by routine daily tasks. They experience symptoms ranging from fatigue, shortness of breath, “brain fog,” sleep disorders, fevers, gastrointestinal symptoms, anxiety and depression. Nearly all were initially dismissed by a family practice or other physician who suggested their symptoms were “all in their head.”

Fortunately, scientists and physicians are working hard to characterize long COVID, and we’re now beginning to understand that it is a unique and distinct medical condition of its own. Research shows that long COVID occurs when spike proteins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus remain in a person’s body, in reservoirs of the immune system. The spike proteins are not able to reproduce, as they lack the genetic material required, but they do cause inflammation as the body’s immune system reacts to them. The spike proteins spread around the body, especially during exercise, and cross the blood-brain barrier, which likely accounts for the exercise intolerance of many long haulers, as well as the neurological effects. We are also able to reliably diagnose long COVID patients in a non-subjective way by analyzing patterns in cytokines, different types of proteins produced by a person’s immune system, to identify a long COVID immune system “fingerprint.” And with better understanding, new treatment approaches are emerging that address the underlying causes of the disease, not just the symptoms.

While the institutional recognition of long COVID is very encouraging, and research is shedding more light on the nature of — and treatment pathways for — long COVID, greater awareness among ordinary people, their physicians and scientists is needed. More than 35 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, and estimates suggest as many as 10 million or more may be experiencing long COVID symptoms. Organizations like the Long COVID Alliance can help to provide patients and their families with resources and support, but more professional dialog among doctors and collaboration among researchers is critical to ensuring they have access to the research and medical support they need.

Unfortunately, long COVID is going to be a public health issue for the foreseeable future; we need to come together and help each other through it.

Bruce Patterson is the CEO of IncellDx, where he is developing a new paradigm for predicting, identifying and treating long COVID-19 and other viral pathogens that impair the immune system’s ability to function effectively. He previously served as Medical Director of Diagnostic Virology at Stanford University School of Medicine.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at) Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Alaska coronavirus Q&A: What to know about monoclonal antibody therapy

6 hours 40 min ago

Monoclonal antibody treatments are stored in a refrigerator at a clinic at Tikahtnu Commons in East Anchorage on Friday, September 24, 2021. The state-contracted clinic is operated by Fairweather LLC. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

This week, we address questions and misperceptions about monoclonal antibody therapy, a COVID-19 treatment that is not a substitute for the vaccine but can still help prevent severe illness for those who have recently tested positive for the virus.

Have a question of your own? Drop it in the form at the bottom of this story.

What is monoclonal antibody treatment? How does it work?

The treatment involves laboratory-manufactured antibodies that “help your body take down the virus quickly,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, during a recent call with news media.

The antibodies work by mimicking the immune system’s ability to fight off viruses, and in this case by blocking the virus’s attachment and entry into human cells. Doctors give them to patients through an IV.

[Touted by some as a cure, monoclonal antibody demand is high in Alaska’s least-vaccinated places, but it’s no replacement for a vaccine]

Some research shows the treatment can reduce the chance of hospitalization and death by 70% and shorten the duration of symptoms by about four days. But, that’s not always the case, and health officials say they’re no replacement for the vaccine.

“The better and the fastest way to take down the virus is if you’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, because you have those antibodies” already, Zink said.

“But, if you get sick, and you are not vaccinated — or even if you are vaccinated, but high-risk (for severe illness from the virus) — adding to those natural antibodies these small, potent antibodies — particularly early on in the disease process — may minimize your chance of hospitalization,” she explained.

[Read more coronavirus Q&A articles]

Who is eligible to receive the treatment?

Alaskans 12 and above with mild-to-moderate cases of COVID-19 who are considered high-risk for severe illness from the virus may be eligible for the treatment — even those who’ve previously been vaccinated.

Providers will only offer the treatment to people who’ve had symptoms for less than 10 days — and Zink said within the first five days is preferable because that’s when it’s most effective.

“It’s all about timing,” she said.

Brittany Blake, a nurse at Urgent Care at Lake Lucille in Wasilla, said she wishes more people understood that the treatment is something Alaskans should look into right when they first test positive, not when they’re so sick that they need to be hospitalized, because then it’s too late.

“We’ve had some people who are really frustrated because they didn’t realize the urgency of getting the treatment within that one to 10 days, and unfortunately we can’t give it to them after that because it can be harmful,” Blake said.

Is it free?

This varies somewhat by provider, but in many cases, yes — the treatment is free.

One Tikahtnu clinic that offers the treatment told the Daily News that patients are not charged regardless of whether or not they have health insurance, while a different clinic said it’s only free for people who have insurance.

Is it safe?

The treatment has received an Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is granted when the agency determines a treatment to be both safe and effective.

How can Alaskans access the treatment?

Alaskans can call their physician or the state’s coronavirus helpline, 907-646-3322, with questions about their eligibility and which providers near them offer the treatment.

How quickly does the treatment work?

Often relatively quickly. Blake, the Wasilla nurse, said the majority of her patients usually feel a little worse right after the treatment, and much better the next day.

“They go to bed and they wake up, and it’s like night and day,” she said.

Can people who’ve received the antibody treatment get vaccinated against COVID-19?

People who have received a monoclonal antibody infusion for COVID-19 should not be vaccinated until 90 days after their infusion, health officials say.

Touted by some as a cure, monoclonal antibody demand is high in Alaska’s least-vaccinated places, but it’s no replacement for a vaccine

6 hours 41 min ago

Nurse practitioner Jyll Green is operations manager for a monoclonal antibody infusion clinic in East Anchorage. Photographed on Friday, September 24, 2021. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Jyll Green walked between green cots early Friday morning after a snowy drive from her home in Girdwood to a storefront in Tikhatnu Commons in Anchorage.

Green is operations manager at the state-contracted facility that’s giving hundreds of monoclonal antibody infusions every week to COVID-19-positive patients at high risk of severe complications from the illness.

The pace and demand of those treatments has soared in recent weeks as the delta variant spreads furiously across the state, pushing hospitals into crises and infecting thousands.

The treatments have gained notice recently as they’ve been pushed by local health officials for their benefits, but some providers reported hearing from people who were seeking the treatment instead of the vaccine — which isn’t recommended.

Statewide, areas with lower vaccination rates — Anchorage, Mat-Su, Fairbanks and the Kenai Peninsula — have the highest demand for the treatments, said Coleman Cutchins, state pharmacist.

Health officials are publicizing the treatment as an important component of the COVID-19 response since they’re a successful at preventing severe illness in many cases, though with some limitations.

But they say it’s no replacement for inoculation against the virus.

“I just want to be really clear that like, it is in no way, shape or form close to a substitute or an alternative for a vaccine,” Cutchins said.

Administrative clerk Josiah Renk works to prepare a monoclonal antibody infusion clinic before it opens on September 24, 2021. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that work by mimicking the immune system’s ability to fight off viruses, and in this case by blocking the virus’s attachment and entry into human cells.

Some research shows it can reduce the chance of hospitalization and death by 70% and shorten the duration of symptoms by about four days. But, that’s not always the case.

The treatments are like a safety net 10 feet below a steep cliff while the vaccines are like a large fence preventing someone from falling in the first place, Cutchins said.

In a Wednesday news conference, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy urged multiple measures to protect against COVID-19. He underscored the importance of vaccination as well the use of monoclonal antibodies.

Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer also pushed the importance of the drug, especially getting them early as the treatment is best used within the first five days of illness.

Nurses Crista Johnson and Jeremiah Hassemer prepare monoclonal antibody treatments before the clinic opens at Tikahtnu Commons in East Anchorage on Friday, September 24, 2021. The state-contracted clinic is operated by Fairweather LLC. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Brittany Blake is a nurse at Urgent Care at Lake Lucille, a clinic in Wasilla that has been extremely busy in recent weeks offering the treatment. She and one clinic doctor, Dr. Louis Packer, have been working long hours in order to maximize the number of patients that can get seen: The two have done over 130 infusions in just three weeks.

“People are panicking, and we’re trying to get them in as fast as a we can,” she said.

The clinic is located in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which has some of the lowest vaccination rates in Alaska. The clinic is one of the only places in Wasilla that offer the sometimes life-saving treatment.

[Alaska coronavirus Q&A: What to know about monoclonal antibody therapy]

Most patients who contact that clinic and who meet the criteria are able to be treated within a few days, Blake said.

The majority of the patients they see are those who meet specific eligibility requirements — they have very recently tested positive, have had symptoms for less than 10 days and are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to age or a chronic health issue. But the clinic has also offered the treatment to patients who live with elderly family members or as a preventive measure on a case-by-case basis, Blake said.

She said she wishes more people understood how the antibody treatment works — that it’s something that Alaskans should look into right when they first test positive, not when they’re so sick that they need to be hospitalized, because then it’s too late.

“We’ve had some people who are really frustrated because they didn’t realize the urgency of getting the treatment within that one to 10 days, and unfortunately we can’t give it to them after that because it can be harmful,” Blake said.

Monoclonal antibody treatments are stored in a refrigerator at a clinic at Tikahtnu Commons in East Anchorage on Friday, September 24, 2021. The state-contracted clinic is operated by Fairweather LLC. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Dr. Leslie Gonsette, a hospitalist at Alaska’s largest hospital, Providence Alaska Medical Center, said she received a call about a 20 year-old patient who’d grown much more sick despite monoclonal antibody treatment and would likely need a non-invasive ventilator last week.

Monoclonal antibody treatments are critical now as they may keep some from being admitted to the hospital while the state’s health care system is highly strained with severely ill COVID-19 patients and staffing shortages, Cutchins said.

[Impossible choices inside Alaska’s inundated hospitals]

The treatments are mostly being administered in privately run clinics, tribal health care facilities, emergency rooms and urgent cares around the state, Cutchins said.

The government has been providing the treatment drug for free most of the time, Cutchins said. Most treatment sites bill insurance and usually are not charging uninsured patients. The cost for the treatment is roughly a few thousand dollars, he said.

At the Tikahtnu clinic, Green said they don’t charge patients regardless of insurance and she is able to refer people for the treatment even if they don’t have a provider.

On average, staff at the center infuse around 30 people a day and as many as 50 more recently, Green said. Her phone rings constantly, sometimes a phone call a minute. The night before, Green was screening patients at 11 p.m.

They treat people who unvaccinated and vaccinated alike — focusing on a criteria of those who are at high risk for severe complications.

Green said she often hears from people that are against the vaccine, but seeking the antibody treatment instead.

“At least twice a day, I do get a call from someone who is still anti-vaccination that says, ‘well this isn’t a vaccine right? Because I don’t want anything to do with that vaccine.”

[She’s an Anchorage nurse. Her brother died of COVID-19 at the hospital where she works.]

She responds by telling people that just like the vaccine, the monoclonal antibody treatment is also under emergency use authorization from the federal Food and Drug Administration. And, the vaccine is the best way to get antibodies against the virus.

“We don’t have that level of conspiracy theory and concern (around monoclonal antibodies) that a lot of people had with the vaccine,” Green said. “It’s cognitive dissonance at its finest.”

Green said she can usually point out who hasn’t gotten the vaccine and who has, based on how sick the unvaccinated patients arrive. She underscores to them that after 90 days they can still get a vaccine.

“It’s night and day between someone who’s vaccinated and unvaccinated coming in for an infusion,” she said.

Nurse Crista Johnson starts her workday after suiting up in personal protective equipment at a monoclonal antibody infusion clinic in East Anchorage on Friday, September 24, 2021. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Sometimes people leave and Green said she thinks “I hope she lives.”

Green’s concerned that the supply of the antibodies is beginning to dwindle amid supply chain woes. Beyond the drug itself, even the supplies needed to do the infusion have also run short lately.

And it’s hard — Green can’t treat everyone who comes in. If someone’s oxygen level is below 94, the disease is too advanced. Essentially, it’s too late. At that point, they tell the patients to go the hospital. Once someone arrived with an oxygen level of 58.

“It’s sad,” Green said. “I always say, I can’t stop to think about everything I see in a day, or I’d be overcome and overwhelmed and I would just shut down.”

The staff at the center wear full Tyvek suits and face helmets a bit like those firefighters wear with a whirring respirator at the hip for ten hours a day. It’s loud and stressful.

But still, Green highlighted the importance of the treatment for those who need it. She said she wanted to keep it fresh in people’s minds.

As the state’s COVID-19 case rate has climbed, so has the number of monoclonal antibody treatments being administered by staff at the Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center in Fairbanks, which is part of the Tanana Chiefs Conference nonprofit that serves Interior Alaska.

[Alaska health workers face anger and threats from COVID patients and public, chief medical officer says]

Dan Nelson, pharmacy director there, said he felt like there’s an idea among some that they don’t need to get vaccinated because the treatment is available.

Nelson described a patient who received the antibody treatment and then went on to encourage friends and family that “this is a wonder drug, you don’t really need to get vaccinated because this is available,” Nelson recounted.

“That’s really been disheartening to hear those sorts of stories,” he said.

In Wasilla, Blake said her clinic’s ultimate goal in offering the treatment is to prevent people from being sick enough to need hospitalization, and to protect capacity at understaffed, overwhelmed hospitals in the Mat-Su and Anchorage.

“That’s what our end goal is: to keep people out of the hospital,” she said.

Celebrating community investment in harm prevention

7 hours 16 min ago

Downtown Anchorage, Alaska, photographed on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

In April 2020, Anchorage residents took a bold step in reimaging our city’s future. Voters not only supported an alcohol sales tax, but one that makes clear investments in early intervention types of prevention. In February, this new tax went into effect.

Maybe you’ve noticed the 5% tax on your receipt when buying a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer. Maybe you haven’t. After all, it’s a small amount: just 25 cents on a $5 drink. While the individual increase is modest, collectively it has already made a huge impact. Together, those quarters have added up to more than $11 million of investment directly into the health, safety and wellbeing of our community.

Often, a new tax is seen as another way to grow government, not as a tool to build a thriving community. However, Anchorage’s new alcohol tax is very different. When voters approved the tax in April 2020, they also directed it to fund three core areas: public safety; preventing child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence; and preventing and treating substance misuse and mental health. The goal of these funds was not only to “feed the line,” but find ways to “shorten the line.” We shorten the line by getting to the root causes of these societal issues, rather than continuing to only fund emergency response.

A critical priority is funding programs that focus on children, youths and families to improve outcomes of our future generations. In the first year, Anchorage residents have invested $11 million toward a positive difference in our community. Some examples of this investment include, but are not limited to:

  • More than $1.5 million to fund the work of a mental health first responder team for people in crisis, rather than utilizing police resources;
  • Nearly $1 million to bolster our local criminal justice system by increasing funding to police, firefighters and prosecutors;
  • $2 million to invest in our youngest citizens by expanding pre-K for low-income families, supporting the Countdown to Kindergarten outreach program and transportation for kids experiencing homelessness to stay in school;
  • Another $2 million directed toward primary prevention grants to support healthy babies, children, youth and families. These grants provide a variety of services, from direct support for at-risk parents and families, to training for parents and service providers to learn effective and culturally relevant practices, to education for teens around healthy behaviors and relationships;
  • Nearly $100,000 utilized to establish Anchorage’s first Office of Equity and Justice, created in 2020 to focus on how the municipality can serve all residents and support employees more fairly; and
  • Nearly $4 million to support programs addressing mental health, substance misuse, and homelessness, including camp abatement, overnight shelter and treatment centers.

As Anchorage residents, we are so proud to have our fellow neighbors take a stand and say we will no longer just hope for the best. We are going to take action and ensure our community is moving in the right direction. The issues we are trying to address did not happen overnight, nor will they be solved overnight. However, by making our first-ever true investment in upstream, primary prevention, we are starting the process to shorten the line and build a desirable community that individuals and businesses want to call home. We know this tax alone is not enough to solve all of the issues facing Anchorage, but it is a good start.

Thank you, Anchorage, for your vision and perseverance in helping ensure our community thrives. Together, we are creating a safer, smarter and more prosperous place to live.

Tiffany Hall serves as executive director for Recover Alaska, a nonprofit that works with partners around the state to reduce excessive alcohol use and harm.

Celeste Hodge Growden is president and CEO of the Alaska Black Caucus, a nonpartisan organization whose focus is to assert the constitutional rights of African Americans.

Trevor Storrs is president and CEO of the Alaska Children’s Trust, or ACT, the leading statewide agency addressing the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at) Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Officials say an elections supervisor who embraced conspiracy theories has become an insider threat

7 hours 26 min ago

Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, center, reads the results from the first round of ballots for the 2020 presidential primary elections at the Mesa County election office in Grand Junction, Colo. (McKenzie Lange/The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel via AP) (McKenzie Lange/)

In April, employees in the office that runs elections in western Colorado’s Mesa County received an unusual calendar invitation for an after-hours work event, a gathering at a hotel in Grand Junction. “Expectations are that all will be at the Doubletree by 5:30,” said the invite sent by a deputy to Tina Peters, the county’s chief elections official.

Speaking at the DoubleTree was Douglas Frank, a physics teacher and scientist who was rapidly becoming famous among election deniers for claiming to have discovered secret algorithms used to rig the 2020 contest against Donald Trump. Frank led the crowd in a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and spent the next 90 minutes alleging an elaborate conspiracy involving inflated voter rolls, fraudulent ballots and a “sixth-order polynomial,” video of the event shows. He was working for MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell, he said, and their efforts could overturn President Joe Biden’s victory.

Being told to sit through a presentation of wild, debunked claims was “a huge slap in the face,” one Mesa County elections-division employee said of the previously unreported episode. “We put so much time and effort into making sure that everything’s done accurately,” the employee told The Washington Post, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. Peters, the elected county clerk, had expressed sympathy for such theories in the past, the employee said.

Over the course of the past month, in a lawsuit filed by the state’s top elections official, Peters and her deputy have been accused of sneaking someone into the county elections offices to copy the hard drives of Dominion Voting Systems machines. Those copies later surfaced online and in the hands of election deniers. The local district attorney, state prosecutors and the FBI are investigating whether criminal charges are warranted.

The events in Mesa County represent an escalation in the attacks on the nation’s voting system, one in which officials who were responsible for election security allegedly took actions that undermined that security in the name of protecting it. As baseless claims about election fraud are embraced by broad swaths of the Republican Party, experts fear that people who embrace those claims could be elected or appointed to offices where they oversee voting, potentially posing new security risks.

“I’ve always worried, working in this space, about people who want to harm our elections or sabotage them from the outside - the foreign actors trying to hack elections,” said Mike Beasley, a lobbyist for the Colorado County Clerks Association. “I’ve never until now had to worry about what goes on on the inside. And now we’ve crossed that threshold.”

Trump in recent months has endorsed several proponents of the “big lie” to become secretaries of state in key battlegrounds. And experienced election administrators at the local level have been fleeing their jobs amid skyrocketing stress and threats to their personal safety.

Douglas Frank appears at a rally for former president Donald Trump in Ohio in June. Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford (Jabin Botsford/)

“If these local offices become weaponized in a way that subverts the free and fair election, then we no longer live in a healthy democracy,” said Tammy Patrick, an election-administration expert and senior adviser to the Democracy Fund, a nonpartisan private foundation that seeks to strengthen voting systems.

The lawsuit was filed by Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat whose office supervises elections run by county clerks. It seeks to strip Peters and her deputy, Belinda Knisley, of their election powers, arguing that they were responsible for an “unprecedented security breach.” For that reason, Griswold argues, Peters cannot be permitted to have access to county voting equipment.

Griswold alleges that an unauthorized person was given a key card and that Peters’s office falsely claimed that that person was a county employee. Security cameras in the elections offices were turned off, Griswold alleges, before Peters and the unauthorized person swiped in on May 23 - a Sunday, the day the hard drive was copied for the first time.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) (David Zalubowski/)

After those events became the subject of an investigation, Peters stopped going to her office, saying she feared for her safety. From an undisclosed location, she urged one of her employees in an email not to speak with investigators - and to spread that message to other employees, according to the email, which was among numerous documents The Post obtained for this story through public records requests.

Neither Peters nor Knisley agreed to be interviewed for this story, and neither answered questions sent by email. Their lawyers have argued that at worst the two women committed “several technical violations of election regulations, none of which justify removal of an elected official.” They have said that the two were within their rights to bring in a consultant, and that Peters and Knisley never authorized confidential data to be published online.

Speaking last week on a podcast aimed at conservative Christians, Peters acknowledged that she “commissioned somebody to come in” to copy the hard drives. The idea was to make one copy before a planned software update and another copy after, she said, and then to compare them to determine whether files necessary to investigate past elections were deleted.

Peters insisted her actions were necessary to protect election security - and she called on county clerks elsewhere to follow her lead and copy their own voting-machine hard drives. She alleged that she has become the target of powerful forces that do not want her to get to the truth.

“They will stop at nothing to shut this up,” she said. “I’m willing to go as far as it takes to do what needs to happen. I mean, God’s called me, He’ll sustain me and He’s surrounding me with His people. So, I feel very good.”

Lindell told The Post that in recent weeks he has paid for Peters’s lodging, security and lawyers. He hopes that other elections officials will come forward to join the fight.

“We want to get more Tinas,” Lindell said recently on his twice-daily online show. “We need more Tinas out there.”

Belinda Knisley, left, and Tina Peters at the Colorado County Clerks Association winter conference in Colorado Springs in 2020. (Colorado County Clerks Association)

A shift in tone

Peters, who is in her mid-60s, spent years running a family construction company and at one point sold magnets and other alternative wellness products through Nikken, a multilevel marketing firm, according to her YouTube channel and an archived version of her website. In 2017, she decided to run for clerk in Mesa County, a Republican stronghold on Colorado’s Western Slope.

Peters campaigned during the 2018 primary on a promise of shorter lines at the motor vehicle department. She beat her opponent, a longtime employee of the clerk’s office, and was not opposed in the general election.

But the following year, Peters’s office - beset by staff turnover - failed to collect and count 574 ballots that had been left in a drop box during a November 2019 election. Residents mounted an unsuccessful recall effort, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel’s editorial board called for her resignation, and the secretary of state sent a monitor, former Eagle County clerk Teak Simonton, to oversee the county’s administration of a primary in the summer of 2020.

In a report to the secretary of state, Simonton wrote that Peters had been “distrusting, frequently rude and antagonistic,” but that her staff was cooperative, hard-working and committed to integrity.

Simonton told The Post that while she found Peters to be difficult to work with, “there was nothing that I saw that gave me an impression that the election was being run illegally or unethically or with a slant toward certain candidates and not others.”

After the 2020 presidential election, Peters initially declared that she was proud of the smooth, secure election her office had run. But her tone shifted as Trump and his GOP allies repeated baseless claims of fraud.

On Jan. 2, Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., published a series of tweets affirming Biden’s victory and criticizing his Republican colleagues who planned to challenge it on Jan. 6. “UR Dirty or ignorant,” Peters tweeted in response, the Daily Sentinel reported at the time. “You would be wise to learn the Constitution that you swore to uphold and to protect us from enemies ‘foreign and domestic.’ "

In early April, Grand Junction held a municipal election for four nonpartisan city council seats. The winners did not include any of the candidates endorsed by Stand for the Constitution, a far-right group that has unsuccessfully urged county officials to declare the county a “constitutional sanctuary” where federal laws do not apply. The outcome stoked suspicion in some quarters that the election results could not be trusted.

“When I started having citizens come to me and tell me that something didn’t seem right ... I said you know what? If there’s a ‘there’ there, we’ll find it,” Peters later recalled at a symposium Lindell organized to push election-fraud claims.

MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has spent months falsely claiming that the 2020 election was stolen, speaks during a MAGA rally in New Richmond, Wis., in June. Photo for The Washington Post by Jenn Ackerman (Jenn Ackerman/)

Seventeen days after the Grand Junction City Council election, Douglas Frank came to town. At the DoubleTree event, he said that Lindell had paid for his trip.

In an interview, Frank said that before his public talk, he met privately with Peters and members of her staff - one of a hundred meetings he estimated he has held in recent months with election administrators across the country. He said he told Peters that voter rolls in Mesa County included people who had died or moved elsewhere, and that fraudulent ballots have been cast in those people’s names, a claim for which no evidence has been offered publicly.

“I sat down with her and showed her how her election was hacked, and she brought in all of her employees, one after the other,” he said.

Frank said he spoke to Peters about an upcoming Dominion software update that he believed could delete the data they needed to prove the election had been rigged. He said he told her that she had a responsibility under federal law to preserve election records, including data from the machines.

“She said ‘Well, how do I do that?’ " Frank recalled. “I said, ‘I’ll put you in touch with people who can help you.’ "

He said he relayed her request for aid to someone in Lindell’s circle.

Key cards retrace steps

Because voting machines are not connected to the internet, their software must be updated manually, a tightly controlled process called a “trusted build.” In Colorado those updates require passwords set by officials at the Colorado Department of State, the agency led by Griswold. Mesa County was scheduled to undergo its trusted build on May 25.

Peters wanted to let members of the public observe, but state officials denied that request, citing concerns about security and covid-19, emails show. The only people who could attend were authorized county election staff and officials from the department of state and from Dominion, a favorite target of election deniers.

On May 14, emails obtained by The Post show, Knisley requested that a county email address be created for a “Gerald Wood,” a person she described to county IT staff as a “temp person for the Elections Department.” She indicated that he should receive the same computer permissions as Sandra Brown, a manager in the elections division.

On May 18, a week before the trusted build, Brown told her contact in the state department that she would be one of the county staffers to attend the trusted build and that Wood would be the other. She listed his position as “administrative assistant,” according to an email obtained by The Post.

According to county officials, no one by that name was actually hired as an employee or contractor. Brown did not respond to voice-mail messages. County officials have suspended her with pay pending the outcome of the investigations.

At some point before the trusted build, security cameras were turned off, an action that was “outside of the normal business practice of Mesa County,” according to Griswold’s lawsuit. Documents obtained by The Post show that the director of the elections division asked the IT help desk in early June why the cameras were not working properly. She was told that Knisley had requested that the cameras be turned off until the end of July, the documents show.

Lawyers for Peters and Knisley have not disputed that the cameras were turned off but have said turning them off during that period was permitted under state election rules.

On Sunday May 23, the day Griswold says the hard drive was first copied, key cards assigned to Peters, Brown and Wood were swiped to enter the election division area of the clerk’s office, according to security logs. Each card was used to access that area multiple times, with the first swipe just before 11 a.m. and the last at 8:38 p.m., the logs show.

Two days later, officials from Dominion and the state department visited Mesa County for the trusted build. Brown and Peters were there, security logs show, as was the person known as Gerald Wood. In a filing as part of the lawsuit, Griswold alleged that Peters falsely told state officials that Wood was a staffer transitioning to elections from the motor vehicles division.

During the trusted build, someone made a video recording and still photos, Griswold’s lawyers later asserted in a court filing. Lawyers for Peters wrote that while she took a video and photographs, she never authorized any imagery from the trusted build to be posted online.

On May 26, another copy of the Dominion hard drive was made, according to a consultant’s report filed in court by Peters’s and Knisley’s attorneys. Security logs show that key cards belonging to Peters, Brown and other county employees were used to access the elections room on that day. The card belonging to Wood was not.

In the weeks that followed, election deniers in Colorado began spreading the idea that Dominion and the secretary of state were wiping out data that was necessary to prove that prior elections had been fraudulent.

“Right now these people who’ve done this are covering their tracks, and they’re doing it in a very quick manner,” Sherronna Bishop, a Peters ally, told fellow activists during a June video conference call in which they discussed pressuring county clerks across the state to delay their software updates. The Post obtained a recording of the call.

In response to a request for an interview, Bishop, a former campaign manager for Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., asked for a list of questions to which she then did not respond.

A Gerald Wood who lives near Grand Junction also did not respond to several messages left on his home phone. Investigators have not disclosed if they believe Wood is the person who accessed the elections offices. His Facebook account shows he has liked one page: Bishop’s.

Peters’s profile rises

The first public inkling that someone had leaked information from inside the Mesa County elections office came on Aug. 2. Ron Watkins, the former administrator of the 8kun message board where the QAnon conspiracy theory has been promoted, began to publish photographs of election equipment, images he said he had obtained from a whistleblower. He called the person who provided the images a “hero” who “went to excruciating effort to detail and archive everything possible.”

Some of the photographs showed pages from a manual for upgrading Dominion machines, while others showed images of Dominion server screens. Watkins warned that he had to redact the images carefully, as a “minor slip-up could potentially dox the whistleblower.”

Watkins wasn’t careful enough. An image he posted showed a spreadsheet of sensitive passwords used to access various Dominion computers and servers. The passwords had been set by state officials, and they were unique to machines in Mesa County.

A week later, the two hard-drive copies appeared online.

The impact of the leak on the wider election-security landscape is a matter of debate. Some experts said hackers could use the leaked material to try to find vulnerabilities in widely used Dominion machines, while others said malicious actors probably already know how voting-machine software works. Either way, Colorado, like many states, uses paper ballots that can be counted to make sure that machine tabulations are accurate.

Inside the county, the impact of the leak quickly became clear. On Aug. 9, Griswold demanded that state officials be permitted to inspect Mesa County’s equipment. Three days later, she ordered the decertification of 41 pieces of equipment. Five days after that, citing the breach, she appointed a supervisor to oversee the county’s elections, and she barred Knisley and Brown from any involvement in county elections work.

During that same period, Peters was becoming a minor celebrity among election deniers. On Aug. 10, according to an email Peters wrote, Lindell had sent his private plane to pick her up in Colorado and take her to the symposium starting that day in South Dakota.

Lindell billed the 72-hour symposium as the venue where he would finally reveal detailed cyber evidence to back up the claims he had been making for months about the 2020 election.

No such evidence was presented, according to independent security experts who attended the symposium. But the event served as a coming-out party of sorts for Peters, who was cheered as a hero when she appeared onstage the first night. She claimed that the secretary of state, who had sent civil servants to inspect Mesa’s equipment earlier in the day, had “raided” her office.

“In Colorado, we know we are a red state. We know we are,” said Bishop, speaking alongside Peters. “We have 64 counties in Colorado, and we have one clerk who would stand up for us and fully investigate.”

The following day at the symposium, discussion of the two Dominion hard drives from Mesa County was briefly interrupted by Watkins, who said his lawyer had advised them to stop talking because the hard drives may have been stolen from Mesa County. With the event streaming online, Watkins said his lawyer, Ty Clevenger, said they may have been stolen by Conan James Hayes - a former pro surfer who started working for Lindell earlier this year, Lindell told The Post.

Peters immediately took to the stage to deny that. “There was nothing, no hard drives that belong to our equipment that were taken off the premises,” she said, “unless it happened during the raid.”

A few moments later, Watkins again interrupted. He had more news. Clevenger had just told him that Hayes “did have permission to take the hard drive, but did not have permission to upload it.” Clevenger had heard this update from Bishop, Watkins said.

Clevenger told the news outlet Vice that Hayes was Watkins’s source for the hard drives. In an interview with The Post, Clevenger said he was no longer commenting on the matter publicly.

The drives’ metadata show that the copies were created by a computer using the initials “cjh,” two cybersecurity specialists who reviewed the hard-drive copies told The Post. Lindell told The Post he did not know anything about whether Hayes was involved in copying Mesa County’s hard drives.

Attempts to reach Hayes were unsuccessful. Lindell said he would pass on a reporter’s interview request to Hayes but warned that Hayes was unlikely to speak to The Post.

As Peters’s national profile was rising in South Dakota, officials at home were obtaining search warrants to examine her cellphone data, take DNA swabs from election machines, remove Dominion equipment from Mesa County’s offices and obtain records to determine who had had access to the secure tabulation room since Frank’s visit in April, according to copies of the warrants reviewed by The Post.

The U.S. Election Integrity Plan, a group that has served as a key engine for election-fraud claims in Colorado, posted online copies of what it said were court documents related to the investigation. The records detailed a search during that same period of the home near Grand Junction where Gerald Wood lives. Investigators seized cellphones and other electronics, according to the document.

In a statement to The Post, the district attorney’s office said: “We suspect the document you saw online is of the search warrant inventory but cannot confirm its authenticity as the case is sealed.”

On Aug. 23, county officials suspended Knisley with pay after multiple complaints that she engaged in “inappropriate, unprofessional conduct in workplace behavior,” according to documents filed in court. She was ordered to stay away from her office, and her access to the county’s email and computer systems was disabled, documents show.

But two days later she was found in the clerk’s office, where someone had used Peters’s credentials to log in to her computer and tried to print documents, according to an affidavit from an investigator with the district attorney’s office. Knisley was later charged with felony burglary and a misdemeanor cybercrime offense.

On Aug. 27, an employee in the clerk’s office told Peters via email that she had been advised to alert the county’s human resources department if Knisley showed up again. She asked Peters whether she should pass that guidance along to the rest of the staff. Peters advised her to “hold off” on spreading that message - and to instead spread another.

“No one has any obligation to speak to any law enforcement and are encouraged not to do so,” Peters wrote. “They need to refer all to me and I will have our attorney be in touch with them.”

By then, Peters had not been in her office or appeared publicly in Grand Junction for more than two weeks. In one email to a local television reporter, she claimed she had been advised to work remotely because of threats to her safety.

In an exchange with the county attorney, Peters wrote about her concerns that her computer had been removed from her office. The county attorney responded that he was surprised to hear from her given her long absence.

“You assume too much,” she replied. “I am closer than you think.”

Peters’s profile rises

On Sept. 16, Peters made a triumphant return home at a rally organized by Stand for the Constitution, the group that has sought to have Mesa County declared a “constitutional sanctuary.”

After 38 days away, Peters arrived at a Grand Junction church in a black Suburban with dark tinted windows. She slipped in the church’s side door and stood before a large wooden cross as about 250 maskless rallygoers jumped to their feet, clapped, waved and cheered wildly.

“This is all for you,” she said, breaking into tears. “You’re the ones who came to me and said ‘something’s not right.’ "

After 38 days away, Tina Peters made her first public appearance in Grand Junction at a rally by her supporters at Appleton Christian Church. Photo for The Washington Post by Chet Strange (Chet Strange/)

The next day, lawyers representing Peters and Knisley countersued Griswold. They filed in court a report by their own cybersecurity consultant. It claimed the copied hard drives showed that during the trusted build, election records had been “DESTROYED IN VIOLATION OF THE LAW.”

“There is nothing further from the truth,” lawyers for Griswold’s office wrote in their response. Some files were deleted during the trusted build, as would be expected during such an update, but they were not election records and were not required to be preserved, they wrote. Griswold’s office had explicitly instructed officials in Mesa County and across the state to back up their elections files prior to the trusted build so those files wouldn’t be lost, emails show.

The county’s next election will be in November. Ballots will be cast on Dominion machines. Mesa County’s three commissioners, all Republicans, recently voted to extend their contract with Dominion through 2029, saying they had seen no evidence of fraud.

Still, the ballots will be electronically tabulated twice, once on Dominion machines and once on machines made by another company, ClearBallot. They also will be hand-counted. Finally, images of the ballots will be posted online for all to see. Those steps were necessary to reassure voters, the commissioners decided, because of the suspicions roiling Mesa County.

The Washington Post’s Jon Swaine, Magda Jean-Louis and Jennifer Jenkins in Washington and Nancy Lofholm in Grand Junction, Colo., contributed to this report.

Democrats outside Washington worry party will blow its chance of enacting agenda - a failure with grave political consequences

9 hours 40 min ago

President Joe Biden pauses while delivering remarks on covid-19 booster shots in the State Dining Room of the White House on Sept. 24. (Photo for The Washington Post by Stefani Reynolds) (Stefani Reynolds/)

Gilda Cobb-Hunter is furious with fellow Democrats. A veteran social worker, civil rights activist and the longest-serving member of the South Carolina State House, she is losing patience with the infighting that has stalled efforts to enact the agenda the party sold to voters.

“I am seething at how Democrats continuously revert to the circular firing squad method of governing,” she said. “I just don’t understand it. I don’t understand why we continue to do that.”

As Democrats in Washington struggle through contentious negotiations over a sweeping domestic policy proposal, many party activists and officials across the country are watching with a collective headshake and mounting anxiety.

They see Democrats in control of the White House and Congress, yet so far unable to resolve their differences over a multitrillion dollar infrastructure and social safety net package. They see in President Joe Biden a candidate who ran on unity but is now plagued by intraparty divisions. In House and Senate Democratic leaders, they see competing priorities and a reluctance to get their members in line.

While many Democrats believe that in the end, party leaders will find a way to pass their ambitious plan, some have started contemplating a nightmare scenario, in which the talks fall apart and Democrats are left explaining to voters who gave them the keys to the car why they couldn’t get it out of neutral.

“We’re running out of time,” said Sean Bagniewski, the chair of the Polk County Democratic Party in Iowa. “The midterms are almost here.”

Eight months after taking over the reins of government, Democrats face a major test of their ability to capitalize on a once-in-a-generation chance to expand government services that hinges on their capacity to overcome disagreements. Outside Washington, Democrats believe the party’s political fate is inexorably tied to the outcome.

In this instance, Democrats cannot blame former president Donald Trump or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., since they have assembled a plan designed for completion with only Democratic support.

The consequences of failure would be devastating, Democratic officials and activists said, with a recognition that overhauling policing practices and the immigration system have become all but impossible while enacting a far-reaching voting rights bill is a long-shot at best.

Democrats have packed the rest of their priorities - battling climate change, repairing roads and bridges, expanding health-care and child care, and underwriting the cost of higher education - into twin proposals that are supposed to be the centerpiece of the party’s governing agenda and backbone of its midterm campaign platform.

Having already passed the infrastructure portion with bipartisan support in the Senate, Democrats can finish the job without a single additional Republican vote thanks to the process, known as budget reconciliation, they are using to pass the spending for social programs. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a letter to colleagues Saturday that the House will aim to pass both measures this week.

Clinching enough Democratic support to make the whole thing work has proved elusive, putting Democrats looking on from battleground states on edge.

“What happens in the next week is really going to be a defining moment for him and his administration,” said Shelia Huggins, a Democratic National Committee member from North Carolina, speaking of Biden.

Asked about her level of confidence that Biden and congressional Democrats will iron out their differences, Huggins laughed. “My faith is strong, but I’m very concerned,” she said.

Biden has emerged as something of a mediator, huddling separately with different factions in search of compromise. Some party activists urged him to dive deep into the talks in the pivotal days ahead.

House Democrats are hurtling toward a self-imposed deadline in coming days to vote on the infrastructure bill, which moderate Democrats demanded as a condition of adopting a budget framework last month that made the social policy bill possible. But absent a broad agreement on what the latter bill should look like, House liberals have vowed to block the infrastructure bill favored by moderates from passage, creating a conundrum for party leaders.

In the eyes of Cobb-Hunter, such logjams are the result of broader dynamics in the party and stubborn centrists who she singled out for culpability in the most recent round of talks.

“I think it’s because we are truly are a big tent party and we want everybody to get along and we don’t have a killer instinct like the Republicans do,” she said. “Democrats just don’t appreciate power - what it takes to get to keep it and how to use it.”

In today’s Democratic Party, the 2020 election sometimes seems like a distant memory. Democrats shelved long-standing ideological and policy disagreements and banded together out of a shared sense of urgency to defeat Trump.

Many of those disagreements have since resurfaced in the current fight - from the debate over expanding the Affordable Care Act versus moving toward a Medicare-for-all health-care system, to how to balance fighting climate change with protecting workers whose jobs depend on the fossil fuel industry.

“Winning a majority and governing with a majority are two different things,” said Steve Benjamin, the Democratic mayor of Columbia, S.C. “We have much more pronounced distinctions in our party than we probably have ever had.”

Beyond delivering a historic expansion of the social safety net, Democrats are trying to achieve something they set out to do from the minute they took over: demonstrate that government can work.

Failure to do that, would be a cataclysmic development, some Democrats said, reasoning that would it fuel Trump’s declaration that the system is broken and his claims the longtime Democratic establishment figures that ascended to powerful positions in the 2020 election can’t fix it. While Trump isn’t proposing policies to fix the system he says is broken, he was able to win in 2016 by stoking anger and not offering solutions. Democrats said they worry a failed agenda in Washington would be a boost for Trump, who says he’s may run again in 2024, and before that to Republicans in the 2022 midterms.

Inaction on the domestic policy package also presents more immediate perils. With Biden’s approval rating slipping on the heels of his chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and his ongoing struggles with immigration and the pandemic, Democrats in competitive races are starting to feel a drag. The antidote, many feel, is a sweeping legislative victory.

“I say this to everybody out voting in Congress. You know, you didn’t get sent there to sit around and chitty chat all day,” said former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe in an interview on MSNBC. “They have got to pass these bills. We need help in the states. We need infrastructure. Do your job and pass legislation and help lift Americans up.”

McAuliffe is running for his old job in this year’s marquee election. Polls show a competitive contest and the nonpartisan Cook Political Report recently moved the race from the “Lean Democratic” category to “Toss up.”

Recognizing the urgency of the task before him, Biden held a series of meetings this past week with congressional Democrats in an effort to work toward a broad agreement. The president won praise from lawmakers for his efforts, though they did not appear to yield any breakthroughs.

“One of the things that I think is important for - and I’m trying to get people to focus on - is, what is it you like?,” Biden said Friday, explaining his strategy. He said such blunt prioritization helped clinch the bipartisan infrastructure deal in the Senate.

Part of the challenge ahead lies in the fact that Democrats are trying to stuff so many long-held priorities into their package, with many arguing that this could be the last chance - for years, perhaps - to enact something on such a large scale.

While many Democrats said many of the individual provisions, if passed, will be popular and arm Democrats with strong arguments for re-election in the midterms, for now, they acknowledge that it has become something of a hodgepodge of climate, health care and education initiatives that many Americans only have a vague sense of when they hear about it.

When Democrats talk about it, they tend to single out the provisions that appeal to them and the slice of the party they represent. Pelosi has long had a diplomatic way of describing the differences of opinion in her party - which she returned to in recent days.

“We are the Democratic Party. That’s who we are,” she said. “The beauty is in the mix.”

Democrats monitoring the situation from afar described the situation differently.

“We have power, and we haven’t done anything with it,” said Bagniewski.

Federal judge taps the brake on NYC public school vaccine mandate

9 hours 44 min ago

A nurse prepares a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine at St. John's Well Child Family Center in Los Angeles on Jan. 7, 2021. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS) (Irfan Khan/)

NEW YORK — An appeals court judge has tossed a monkey wrench into the city’s demand that teachers and other adults in public schools be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Monday, buying time for the city’s Department of Education workers who are resisting a jab.

In a Friday night order, Judge Joseph Bianco of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit granted a temporary injunction against Mayor Bill de Blasio’s order, and referred the case to a three judge panel for review.

The halt on the vaccine demand came just a day after U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan gave the green light for an order affecting about 149,000 DOE workers.

According to the DOE, 82% of its employees are vaccinated — including 88% of its 78,000 teachers and 95% of 1,600 principals,.

“We’re confident our vaccine mandate will continue to be upheld once all the facts have been presented, because that is the level of protection our students and staff deserve,” said DOE spokeswoman Danielle Filson.

“Our current vax-or-test mandate remains in effect and we’re seeking speedy resolution by the Circuit Court next week… we continue to urge all employees to get their shot by (Monday).”

In his Thursday decision upholding the mandate, Cogan said he understood concerns from some workers about long-term effects of the vaccines, lamenting “no one will get the last laugh it it turns out that 10 or 20 years from now, plaintiffs’ fear... (proves) to have been well-founded.”

“Public school students have already endured two school years that were mired by disruption, leaving many students far behind,” he wrote. “Minimizing interruption by providing a safe environment for these students is... a legitimate and important governmental purpose. Although plaintiffs argue that masks and testing adequately can advance this objective, it is not irrational for defendants to conclude the vaccine mandate better enhances this purpose.”

The prospect of a critical shortage of teachers has schools officials spooked — and scrambling to make sure classrooms and services are maintained.

DOE Chancellor Meisha Porter on Saturday said she was confident the mandate would prevail, but warned “principals and their school communities should continue to prepare for the possibility that the vaccine mandate will go into effect later in the week.”

“Staff have who have not yet received a vaccine should continue to work towards compliance in anticipation of the mandate being reinstated as early as the end of the week,” she added.

The New York City Law Department has argued the mandate is both legal and “in the best interest of children and department employees,” calling it “firmly grounded in science and the expertise of public health officials from across the nation,” a spokesman said.

The Law Department had no immediate response to the temporary injunction.

Supreme Court observers see trouble ahead as public approval of justices erodes

9 hours 51 min ago

Fencing was put up around the U.S. Capitol and Supreme Court in anticipation of a right-wing protest on Sept. 18. The protesters turned out to support the mob that participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. (Washington Post photo by Michael Robinson Chavez) (Michael Robinson Chavez/)

The Supreme Court’s approval rating is plummeting, its critics are more caustic and justices are feeling compelled to plead the case to the public that they are judicial philosophers, not politicians in robes.

All of this as the court embarks Oct. 4 on one of the most potentially divisive terms in years. Cases already docketed concern gun control, the separation of church and state, and the biggest showdown in decades on the future of Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to abortion.

Meanwhile, a presidential commission studying the court is being bombarded with criticism from the left, and occasionally the right, that the justices are too political, too powerful and serve for too long.

Even those who value the court see trouble ahead.

“Not since Bush v. Gore has the public perception of the court’s legitimacy seemed so seriously threatened,” the Georgetown Supreme Court Institute’s executive director, Irv Gornstein, said last week at a preview of the court’s upcoming term.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she has grave concerns for the court, and government in general.

“I worry a great deal about it, because when the public begins to question and doubt the independence of this third, separate but equal branch of government, they’ve got a problem here,” she said, adding, “I think the public needs to be able to trust that the judiciary will be that independent, unbiased check” on the political branches.

A Gallup poll released last week said Americans’ opinions of the Supreme Court have dropped to a new low, with only 40 percent approving of the justices’ job performance. “At this point, less than a majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents approve of the job the court is doing,” said Gallup, which has been tracking the trend since 2000.

A recent survey by Marquette University Law School documented the same dramatic drop. Its numbers showed public approval sliding from 60 percent in July to 49 percent in September.

Those weeks are usually quiet at the court, with justices on summer recess. But in emergency decisions in August and September, the court ruled against two Biden administration initiatives, ending a nationwide eviction moratorium and reimposing an abandoned immigration policy. And in a bitter 5-to-4 split that sparked controversy and prompted congressional action, the court allowed to take effect a Texas law banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, while legal challenges to it continue.

Those late summer rulings apparently came with a cost. “Whatever people might have seen as moderation on the court over the past year was followed by these three rulings, right in a row and close together, that all took a conservative tilt,” said Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette poll, in explaining the drop in approval.

In recent weeks, three justices - the newest, Amy Coney Barrett, and its most senior, conservative Clarence Thomas and liberal Stephen Breyer - have defended in speeches and interviews the court’s decision-making and independence.

“My goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks,” Barrett said in a speech in Kentucky, asserting that judicial philosophies, not partisan leanings, dictate the court’s rulings.

Thomas, in a speech at Notre Dame, said justices do not rule based on “personal preferences” and suggested that the nation’s leaders should not “allow others to manipulate our institutions when we don’t get the outcome that we like.”

Breyer increasingly finds himself in dissent, especially in the emergency orders that come without the court’s normal briefing and argument.

But promoting a new book that warns that restructuring the court would be seen as a partisan move imperiling the court’s authority, he has pointed out controversial areas in which liberal and conservative justices have reached agreement. He mentions upholding the Affordable Care Act for a third time, and staying out of election challenges brought by President Donald Trump and his allies.

The protestations have not had the desired effect, at least among some liberals and Democrats.

“I think these last few years have really been very dangerous and potentially devastating to the Supreme Court’s credibility because the public is seeing the court as increasingly political, and the public is right,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who served as a Supreme Court clerk to Justice Harry Blackmun. “The statements by Thomas, Barrett, Breyer, you know, give me a break ... they are just inherently noncredible.”

Democrats remain chafed at Trump’s ability, with a push from then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to transform the Supreme Court.

McConnell refused to allow a hearing on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court choice Merrick Garland in 2016, saying it was inappropriate in an election year. He then rushed through Barrett’s confirmation to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just days before Election Day, and after voters had begun casting early ballots that denied Trump a second term.

Along with replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy, Trump nominated and McConnell’s Republican-majority Senate confirmed Barrett and Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, overwhelmingly along party lines. That has given the court a 6-to-3 conservative majority that is likely to remain for years to come.

Some conservatives contend that questions about the court’s legitimacy are cooked up by Democrats and progressives, who they say turn every disliked decision into a call for expanding the number of justices while Democrats control the White House and Senate.

Roman Martinez, a Washington lawyer who clerked for Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., said at the Georgetown event that the “incendiary language” plays a role in public disapproval of the court.

“I do think there is a substantial campaign to delegitimize the court that has gotten some traction on the left,” said Martinez, who praised Breyer for showing “courage” by speaking out.

He contended that Senate Democrats and liberal interest groups from the beginning have attempted to brand Trump’s nominees as partisan and biased.

Those critics argued that “the reason these individuals were being put on the court was they were going to hand the election to Donald Trump, they were going to shield him from investigation and they were going to overturn Obamacare,” Martinez said.

“And none of those things came to pass.”

Of course, Trump himself was the source for some of those expectations. He said Barrett was needed so that a full court could hear litigation arising from the election, and proclaimed that the people he nominated to the high court would overturn Roe.

His transactional approach to judicial appointments was on display when Roberts chided the president for referring to a federal judge as an “Obama judge.”

“Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have ‘Obama judges,’ and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country,” Trump tweeted at the time.

Such criticism stings, whether from the left or right, as the justices’s recent appearances have shown.

But their responses brought criticism as well. Barrett’s comments came during an appearance with McConnell at a University of Louisville center that bears the senator’s name. Rebutting charges that the court is partisan after being introduced by one of the Senate’s chief partisans - McConnell is noncommittal on whether a Republican-led Senate would take up a Supreme Court nomination from President Joe Biden - made Barrett an easy target.

McConnell will appear with Thomas next month as a keynote speaker when the Heritage Foundation holds a tribute to Thomas’s three decades on the Supreme Court.

Similar to Roberts’s criticism, Breyer has complained that the media often notes the party of the president who nominated a judge when writing about his or her opinions. Barrett and Thomas criticized coverage they say is results-oriented rather than focused on the court’s reasoning.

But there is ample evidence that media reports detail the justices’ reasoning. At any rate, that would not explain the drop in approval, which in the Marquette polls has declined from 66 percent in 2020.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said he agrees with the perception that the court “is increasingly a political institution.”

But Congress shares the blame, he said.

“We give opportunities for the court to be perceived as political because we don’t legislate,” Murphy said. “So the court ends up stepping into really important areas of law, because Congress has left huge vacuums on immigration policy and telecommunications policy. So if we were more effective legislating, we would eliminate a lot of the ambiguities that the court then takes advantage of.”

Murkowski said the view of the court reflects a larger societal trend.

“I don’t think that the justices are becoming more political,” she said, adding, “Maybe it’s just that everything now has become more political.”

One bright spot for the court: Marquette’s Franklin said that even though the public’s approval of the court has dipped, trust in the institution has remained relatively stable.

Gornstein wondered whether that was sustainable.

“It is all well and good for justices to tell the public that their decisions reflect their judicial philosophies, not their political affiliations,” he said.

“But if the right-side’s judicial philosophies always produce results favored by Republicans, and the left-side’s judicial philosophies always produce results favored by Democrats, there is little chance of persuading the public there is a difference between the two.”

Iceland elects its first female-majority parliament

10 hours 3 min ago

Iceland's Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir speaks to the media after voting at a polling station in Reykjavik, Iceland, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. Icelanders are voting in a general election dominated by climate change, with an unprecedented number of political parties likely to win parliamentary seats. (AP Photo/Arni Torfason) (Arni Torfason/)

REYKJAVIK, Iceland — Iceland has elected a female-majority parliament, a landmark for gender equality in the North Atlantic island nation, in a vote that saw centrist parties make the biggest gains.

After all votes were counted Sunday, female candidates held 33 seats in Iceland’s 63-seat parliament, the Althing. The three parties in the outgoing coalition government led by Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir won a total of 37 seats in Saturday’s vote, two more than in the last election, and appeared likely to continue in power.

The milestone for women comes despite a poor outcome for parties on the left, where female candidates are more often frontrunners.

Politics professor Silja Bara Omarsdottir said the gender quotas implemented by left-leaning parties for the past decade had managed to create a new norm across Iceland’s political spectrum.

“It is no longer acceptable to ignore gender equality when selecting candidates,” she said.

Opinion polls had suggested a victory for left-leaning parties in the unpredictable election, which saw 10 parties competing for seats. But the center-right Independence Party took the largest share of votes, winning 16 seats, seven of them held by women. The centrist Progressive Party celebrated the biggest gain, winning 13 seats, five more than last time.

Before the election, the two parties formed Iceland’s three-party coalition government, together with Jakobsdottir’s Left Green Party. Her party lost several seats, but kept eight, outscoring poll predictions.

The three ruling parties haven’t announced whether they will work together for another term, but given the strong support from voters it appears likely. It will take days, if not weeks, for a new government to be formed and announced.

Climate change had ranked high on the election agenda in Iceland, a glacier-studded volcanic island nation of about 350,000 people in the North Atlantic. An exceptionally warm summer by Icelandic standards — with 59 days of temperatures above 20 C (68 F) — and shrinking glaciers have helped drive global warming up the political agenda.

But that didn’t appear to have translated into increased support for any of the four left-leaning parties that campaigned to cut carbon emissions by more than Iceland is committed to under the Paris Climate Agreement.

Among incoming members of parliament are the oldest and youngest lawmakers ever to take a seat in Iceland: 72-year-old burger joint owner Tomas Tomasson and 21-year-old law student Lenya Run Karim, a daughter of Kurdish immigrants who is from the anti-establishment Pirate Party.

“I want to improve Iceland’s treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers,” she told The Associated Press, vowing to speak up for young people at parliament. “Our ideas need to be heard more.”

World champ brutalizes Alaska fighter Lauren Murphy in UFC title bout

Sat, 2021-09-25 22:04

World champion Valentina Shevchenko, right, throws a punch against Lauren Murphy of Eagle River during the UFC women's flyweight title bout Saturday in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher) (John Locher/)

Eagle River’s Lauren Murphy got the fight she wanted, and it ended in brutality and disappointment Saturday night in Las Vegas.

World champion Valentina Shevchenko demolished Murphy in the fourth round of their UFC 266 featherweight title fight at T-Mobile Arena.

.@BulletValentina hits her mark

Powered by Kyler Johnson’s 5 touchdowns and Elijah Reed’s 120 yards, East tops Bartlett and keeps the East Side Boot

Sat, 2021-09-25 20:04

East's Kyler Johnson, 10, throws a pass before being tackled during his game against Bartlett at East High on Saturday. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

East High quarterback Kyler Johnson threw for three touchdowns and ran for two Saturday afternoon to propel the Thunderbirds past Bartlett 32-20.

With the victory, East improved to 6-1 overall and 5-1 in the Cook Inlet Conference with one week left in the regular season. Bartlett dropped to 3-4, 2-4.

The Thunderbirds held onto the East Side Boot, the trophy at stake in the annual rivalry game between the two east-side schools. The Boot, a coveted trophy the teams have played for since 2002, honors the memory of East all-state defensive end Aanooali “Auno” Filoialli, who was killed in a car accident that year. His bronzed cleat sits atop the trophy.

Though he didn’t make it into the end zone, East’s Elijah Reed rushed for 120 yards to keep the Thunderbirds moving all game long.

He ripped off several runs for chunks of yardage and flipped the field on a pair long plays in the second half. The first was a 40-yard run on East’s first possession of the half and the second was a 64-yard catch-and-run on the next drive.

“I just try to finish them as strong as I can and get as much yards as I can,” Reed said.

East jumped to a 13-0 halftime lead behind the potent combination of Johnson and receiver Deuce Zimmerman.

They hooked up for both touchdowns, the first on 15-yard pass in the first quarter and the second on a 4-yard jump ball that Zimmerman came down with it despite being draped by two defenders.

East was facing 4th-and-15 when Johnson threw his first touchdown pass.

“I had to make a play so I just threw it up and Deuce of course came down with it,” he said.

Johnson twice succeeded on 4th-and-long plays. The second time, it was 4th-and-11 with 83 seconds left in the game when he tossed a 16-yard scoring strike to Buster Stubbs.

In the third quarter East expanded its lead to 26-0 on two touchdown runs by Johnson. Bartlett finally found the end zone late that quarter on Manu Auelua-Salele’s 10-yard run.

The Golden Bears added two touchdown runs by Niko Alailefaleula late in the fourth quarter.

Bartlett's Niko Alailefaleula runs past East High defenders during their game at East High School on Saturday. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

Sheriff’s office: At least 3 killed in Amtrak derailment

Sat, 2021-09-25 19:00

In this photo provided by Kimberly Fossen an ambulance is parked at the scene of an Amtrak train derailment on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, in north-central Montana. Multiple people were injured when the train that runs between Seattle and Chicago derailed Saturday, the train agency said. (Kimberly Fossen via AP) (Kimberly Fossen/)

JOPLIN, Mont. — At least three people were killed Saturday afternoon when an Amtrak train that runs between Seattle and Chicago derailed in north-central Montana, an official with the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office said.

Dispatcher Starr Tyler told The Associated Press that three people died in the derailment. She did not have more details. Amtrak said in a statement that there were multiple injuries.

The Empire Builder train derailed at 4 p.m. near Joplin, a town of about 200, Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said in a statement. The accident scene is about 150 miles north of Helena and about 30 miles from the border with Canada.

The train had about 147 passengers and 13 crew members onboard, Abrams said.

Megan Vandervest, a passenger on the train who was going to visit a friend in Seattle, told The New York Times that she was awakened by the derailment.

“My first thought was that we were derailing because, to be honest, I have anxiety and I had heard stories about trains derailing,” said Vandervest, who is from Minneapolis. “My second thought was that’s crazy. We wouldn’t be derailing. Like, that doesn’t happen.”

She told the Times that the car behind hers was tilted over, the one behind that was entirely tipped over, and the three cars behind that “had completely fallen off the tracks and were detached from the train.”

Speaking from the Liberty County Senior Center, where passengers were being taken, Vandervest said it felt like “extreme turbulence on a plane.”

Amtrak was working with the local authorities to transport injured passengers and safely evacuate all other passengers, Abrams added.

Photos posted to social media showed several cars on their sides. Passengers were standing alongside the tracks, some carrying luggage.

The images showed sunny skies, and it appeared the accident occurred along a straight section of tracks.

Anchorage junior hockey team survives penalty-filled 3rd period to beat Minnesota 4-3

Sat, 2021-09-25 18:52

Talon Sigurdson scored the game-winner with his sixth goal of the season and the Anchorage Wolverines survived a penalty-filled third period Saturday to take a 4-3 win over the Minnesota Magicians.

Sigurdson put the Wolverines ahead for good with a power-play goal five minutes into the third period of the North American Hockey League game in Richfield, Minnesota.

Anchorage improved to 3-3 in the Tier II junior league, and Minnesota fell to 5-3.

The teams combined for 15 penalties in the third period, nine by Minnesota and six by Anchorage. Both teams were hit with double-minors, and the Magicians were hit with two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, including one against the bench with no time remaining.

Minnesota led 2-1 after the third period but Anchorage came back with two goals in the second period to take a 3-2 lead.

Alexander Babich scored twice for the Wolverines. Cameron Morris enjoyed a three-point night with a goal and two assists, Sigurdson finished with a goal and an assist and Cooper Morris supplied two assists, including one on his brother’s second-period goal.

Anchorage was 2 of 14 on the power play and outshot Minnesota 33-19. Raythan Robbins stopped 16 shots for the Wolverines and Brandon Milberg made 29 saves for the Magicians, who were 1 of 8 with the man advantage.

Anchorage begins a three-game series against the Chippewa Steel of Wisconsin on Thursday.

High school tennis teams wrap up the regular season and head into postseason play

Sat, 2021-09-25 18:24

High school tennis teams wrapped up the regular season Saturday and will spend the first part of the week preparing for the Cook Inlet Conference tennis championships.

On Saturday, Eagle River held off Dimond 5-4 and the Service Cougars picked up three wins via forfeit in a 7-2 win over Bartlett.

Earlier in the week, Eagle River beat Chugiak 6-3 and South stopped Dimond 8-1.

Teams will return to the courts at the Alaska Club East for the CIC championships on Friday and Saturday.

Eagle River 5, Dimond 4

Boys singles No. 1 — Charlie Walker (ER) def Case Cropper 6-1, 6-0

Boys singles No. 2 — Nate Walser (ER) def Kody Calaustro 6-1, 6-1

Boys doubles No. 1 — Joseph Butzke/Jin Mateaki (D) def Spencer Love/Korben Senden 7-5, 6-3

Boys doubles No. 1 — Jack Wallace/Thomas Molly (ER) def Jonas Dimmick/Ben McCormack 6-0, 6-4

Girls singles No. 1 — Alyssa Walker (D) def Lily Singleton 6-4, 3-6, 10-3

Girls singles No. 2 — Mira Olds (D) def Evelyn Montero 6-1, 6-1

Girls doubles No. 1 — Skylar McCasland/Sara Von Luhrte (ER) def Laney Fagerstrom/Meghan Spils 6-3, 6-3

Girls doubles No. 2 — Sydney McMahan/Sally Yu (D) won by default

Mixed doubles — Kai Slama/Amanda Michener (ER) def Carson Hand/Naomi Batac 5-7, 6-3, 11-9

Service 7, Bartlett 2

Boys #1 Singles — Ulysses Escobar (Se) won by forfeit

Boys #1 Singles — Hector Verla (Se) def Xeng Her (B) 6-0, 6-2

Boys #1 Doubles — Quinn Guyer/Wyatt Kornmessen (Se) won by forfeit

Boys #2 Doubles — Jack Wrigley/Noah Fornum (Se) won by forfeit

Girls #1 Singles — Azra Pedalino (Se) def. Venice Cabugao (B) 6-0, 6-0

Girls #2 Singles — Haley Chadwick (B) def. Sophia Nagl-Mermstein (Se) 6-2, 6-1

Girls #1 Doubles — Lyndze Hatcher/Allison Pogue (B) def. Danielle Garnica/Amelia Shem (Se) 6-3, 6-4

Girls #2 Doubles — Ema Peterson/Selena Oezcan (Se) def. Tina Vue/Adelyn Baqui (B) 6-0, 6-0

Mixed Doubles — Toby Lochner/ Allya Pedalino (Se) def. Gianluca Durso/Lily Tessonniere (B) 6-0, 6-4

Eagle River 6, Chugiak 3 (Friday)

Boys singles No. 1 — Nate Walser (ER) def Hunter Fleischhacker (C) 6-0, 6–1

Boys singles No. 2 — Charlie Wallace (ER) def Ben Harmon (C) 6-1, 6-0

Boys doubles No. 1 — Spencer Love/Corbin Senden (ER) def Andrew Gruszynski/Gabriel Gruszynski (C) 6-2,6-0

Boys doubles No. 2 — Jack Wallace/Thomas Malloy (ER) def Jack Latteier/Ben Erickson (C) 6-2, 6-4

Mixed doubles — Kai Slama/Amanda Michener (ER) def Carter Lestina/Cadence Johnson (C) 6-3, 6-1

Girls singles No. 1 — Italia Fraize (C) won by default

Girls singles No. 1 — Imani (Nova) Zaidi (C) def Evelyn Montero (ER) 6-0, 6-1

Girls doubles No. 1 — Sage Childress/Olivia Dimmick (C) def Sara Von Luhrte/Skylar McCaslan (ER) 6-1,4-6, 10-8

Girls doubles No. 2 — Katherine Jimenez/Lily Singleton (ER) def Sora Hanna/Caroline Moffett (C) 6-4, 7-5

South 8, Dimond 1 (Thursday)

Boy’s Singles #1 — Jack Perkins (S) def. Andrew Teasley (D) 7-6 (9-7), 6-4

Boy’s Singles #2 — Jack Baker (S) def. Jack Debenham (D) 6-1, 6-3

Girl’s Singles #1 — Ashley Huang (S) def. Amae Kam-Magruder (D) 6-2, 6-0

Girl’s Singles #2 — Abbie Hemry (S) def. Sydney McMahan (D) 6-0, 6-1

Boy’s Doubles #1 — Walker Brown/Aaron Griffin (S) def. Joseph Butzke/Jin Mateaki (D) 6-3, 6-2

Boy’s Doubles #2 — JD Lincoln/Lochlan Mullen (S) def. Carson Hand/Tae Yoon (D) 6-1, 6-1

Girl’s Doubles #1 — Meghan Spils/Naomi Batac (D) def. Madison Griffin/Ava Trowbridge (S) 6-0, 6-0

Girl’s Doubles #2 — Katrina Bush/Ellie Kennedy (S) won by default

Mixed Doubles — Ryder Skaaren/Dani Jameson (S) def. Kody Calaustro/Mira Olds (D) 6-0, 6-1

Panel OKs Dems’ $3.5T bill, crunch time for Biden agenda

Sat, 2021-09-25 18:03

FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2021, file photo House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth, D-Ky., joined at left by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., talks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) (J. Scott Applewhite/)

WASHINGTON — Democrats pushed a $3.5 trillion, 10-year bill strengthening social safety net and climate programs through the House Budget Committee on Saturday, but one Democrat voted “no,” illustrating the challenges party leaders face in winning the near unanimity they’ll need to push the sprawling package through Congress.

The Democratic-dominated panel, meeting virtually, approved the measure on a near party-line vote, 20-17. Passage marked a necessary but minor checking of a procedural box for Democrats by edging it a step closer to debate by the full House. Under budget rules, the committee wasn’t allowed to significantly amend the 2,465-page measure, the product of 13 other House committees.

More important work has been happening in an opaque procession of mostly unannounced phone calls, meetings and other bargaining sessions among party leaders and rank-and-file lawmakers. President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have led a behind-the-scenes hunt for compromises to resolve internal divisions and, they hope, allow approval of the mammoth bill soon.

Pelosi told fellow Democrats Saturday that they “must” pass the social and environment package this week, along with a separate infrastructure bill and a third measure preventing a government shutdown on Friday. Her letter to colleagues underscored the pile of crucial work Congress’ Democratic majority faces in coming days and seemed an effort to build urgency to resolve long-standing disputes quickly.

“The next few days will be a time of intensity,” she wrote.

Moderate Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., joined all 16 Republicans on the Budget committee in opposing the legislation. His objections included one that troubles many Democrats: a reluctance to back a bill with provisions that would later be dropped by the Senate.

Many Democrats don’t want to become politically vulnerable by backing language that might be controversial back home, only to see it not become law. That preference for voting only on a social and environment bill that’s already a House-Senate compromise could complicate Pelosi’s effort for a House vote this week.

Peters was among three Democrats who earlier this month voted against a plan favored by most in his party to lower pharmaceutical costs by letting Medicare negotiate for the prescription drugs it buys.

Party leaders have tried for weeks to resolve differences among Democrats over the package’s final price tag, which seems sure to shrink. There are also disputes over which initiatives should be reshaped, among them expanded Medicare, tax breaks for children and health care, a push toward cleaner energy and higher levies on the rich and corporations.

Democrats’ wafer-thin majorities in the House and Senate mean compromise is mandatory. Before the measure the Budget panel approved Saturday even reaches the House floor, it is expected to be changed to reflect whatever House-Senate accords have been reached, and additional revisions are likely.

The overall bill embodies the crux of Biden’s top domestic goals. Budget panel chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., cited “decades of disinvestment” on needs like health care, education, child care and the environment as the rationale for the legislation.

“The futures of millions of Americans and their families are at stake. We can no longer afford the costs of neglect and inaction. The time to act is now,” Yarmuth said.

Republicans say the proposal is unneeded, unaffordable amid accumulated federal debt exceeding $28 trillion and reflects Democrats’ drive to insert government into people’s lives. Its tax boosts will cost jobs and include credits for buying electric vehicles, purchases often made by people with comfortable incomes, they said.

“This bill is a disaster for working-class families,” said Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, the committee’s top Republican. “It’s a big giveaway to the wealthy, it’s a laundry list of agenda items pulled right out of the Bernie Sanders socialist playbook.”

The unusual weekend session occurred as top Democrats amp up efforts to end increasingly bitter disputes between the party’s centrist and progressive wings that threaten to undermine Biden’s agenda.

Biden conceded Friday that talks among Democrats were at a “stalemate,” though Pelosi and Schumer have been more positive in an apparent effort to build momentum and soothe differences. A collapse of the measure at his own party’s hands would be a wounding preview to the coming election year, in which House and Senate control are at stake.

To nail down moderates’ support for an earlier budget blueprint, Pelosi promised to begin House consideration by Monday of another pillar of Biden’s domestic plans: a $1 trillion collection of roadway and other infrastructure projects. Pelosi reaffirmed this week that the infrastructure debate would begin Monday.

But many moderates who consider the infrastructure bill their top goal also want to cut the $3.5 trillion social and environment package and trim or reshape some programs. They include Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

In response, progressives — their top priority is the $3.5 trillion measure — are threatening to vote against the infrastructure bill if it comes up for a vote first. Their opposition seems likely to be enough to scuttle it, and Pelosi hasn’t definitively said when a vote on final passage of the infrastructure measure will occur.

With each portion of the party threatening to upend the other’s most cherished goal — a political disaster in the making for Democrats — top Democrats are using the moment to accelerate talks on the massive social and climate legislation. The party can lose no votes in the Senate and a maximum of three in the House to succeed in the narrowly split Congress.