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Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III suggested to lawmakers on Thursday that he supported changes to the laws that govern how the military handles sexual assault cases, but he declined to endorse a measure by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, that would cut out the military chain of command from other serious felonies.
Mr. Austin’s support for changes around sexual assault cases represents a major shift for military leadership, which has long resisted such changes, but his opposition to Ms. Gillibrand’s proposed changes to the military justice system could set up a potential showdown between a large group of senators and the Pentagon.
“Clearly, what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working,” Mr. Austin said in his opening remarks before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “One assault is too many. The numbers of sexual assaults are still too high, and the confidence in our system is still too low.”
Mr. Austin instead appeared to endorse the recommendations of a panel he appointed to study the issue earlier this year. That panel recommends that independent military lawyers take over the role that commanders currently play in deciding whether to court-martial those accused of sexual assault, sexual harassment or domestic violence.
“The issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment,” Mr. Austin said, “are the problems we are trying to resolve and improve.”
President Biden has endorsed Ms. Gillibrand’s approach, at least for now, and her bill has gained support from at least 70 members of the Senate — including many who voted against the same bill in 2014, arguing it would undermine commanders — and key members in the House.
Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, believes Ms. Gillibrand’s bill goes too far and has been working behind the scenes with Pentagon officials to change it.
“I want to be sure that whatever changes to the U.C.M.J. that I recommend to the president and ultimately to this committee, that they are scoped to the problem we are trying to solve, have a clear way forward on implementation, and ultimately restore the confidence of the force in the system,” Mr. Austin said, referring to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is the foundation of the American military legal system. “You have my commitment to that, and also my commitment to working expeditiously as you consider legislative proposals.”
Mr. Austin’s remarks Thursday could set off an intense political battle that will test the power of Ms. Gillibrand among her bipartisan Senate allies including Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, who could be forced to pick sides in determining the measure’s fate, and the White House.
In either event, it seems clear that commanders are all but certain to lose full control over sexual assault prosecutions. “Change is coming to the department,” Mr. Reed said Thursday in reference to the issue.
Ms. Gillibrand and one of her Republican colleagues on the committee, Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, an Army veteran, pressed Mr. Austin further on his views of the issue during the hearing. Ms. Gillibrand suggested that keeping other crimes off the table would contribute to racial disparities in court-martial cases, an argument that could be part of a new strategy to appeal to both remaining skeptical members of Congress and Mr. Austin.
But while Mr. Austin took pains to praise Ms. Gillibrand’s work, crediting her “incredible dedication” for any changes that are made, he also made it fairly clear that he did not support the broad nature of her legislation.
“As you know, Senator, I always have an open mind to solving any tough problem,” he said, but added that his commission had been focused only on sexual assault and harassment.
When he was confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Austin made sexual assault one of his first priorities. In February, he appointed the independent commission to examine the issue and give recommendations that he and the service chiefs could consider.
The members of the panel are seeking a new career track in the Defense Department in which judge advocates general — military lawyers — would be specially trained to deal with such cases. This alone would be a major shift in how the military does things. Mr. Austin has said he wants the service chiefs to review the recommendations.
In 2019, the Defense Department found that there were 7,825 reports of sexual assault involving service members as victims, a 3 percent increase from 2018. The conviction rate for cases was unchanged from 2018 to 2019; 7 percent of cases that the command took action on resulted in conviction, the lowest rate since the department began reporting in 2010.
Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.
Credit…Charles Dharapak/Associated Press
A Senate committee weighed President Biden’s nominations on Thursday to fill two top cyberdefense positions, amid a rising number of ransomware attacks that have shut down critical American businesses, including the nation’s largest meat processor and a major East Coast pipeline company.
Congress last year agreed to create a new national cyber director, a White House position that is supposed to improve defenses and coordinate responses to attacks on both the federal government and the private sector.
The White House tapped Chris Inglis, a former National Security Agency official and a member of the commission that proposed the creation of the position, to become the first national cyber director. The administration also nominated Jen Easterly to lead the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Information Security Agency. Together, the two positions are at the forefront of the nation’s cyberdefenses.
Ransomware attacks go after the weaknesses of companies’ information technology, which must be improved, Mr. Inglis said. But he repeatedly added that the United States must confront countries that give safe harbor to criminal groups conducting the attacks and see that the hackers are brought to justice. Mr. Inglis said his role would be to make sure the administration has a consistent strategy for pushing companies to improve their defenses and for imposing consequences on ransomware groups.
“It will not stop of its own accord; it’s not a fire raging across the prairie that, once it’s consumed the fuel, it will simply stop,” Mr. Inglis said. “We must create resilience and robustness not simply in technology but in people.”
Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, said the Colonial Pipeline attack had shown a lack of accountability for the private sector, particularly for firms that control critical infrastructure. Ms. Easterly replied that voluntary standards were inadequate.
“It’s important that, if there’s a significant cyber incident, that critical infrastructure companies have to notify the federal government,” Ms. Easterly said.
An executive order signed by Mr. Biden last month aimed at improving hacking defenses, required government contractors to report any breach. But lawmakers are looking at broadening reporting requirements through legislation.
Questioned by senators, Mr. Inglis and Ms. Easterly said private companies should not pay ransoms. But Mr. Inglis said it was not a simple yes or no question. The solution, he said, was to improve companies’ defenses, making them harder targets, and removing the sanctuaries that hacking groups enjoy.
“It’s not appropriate to pay ransom,” Mr. Inglis said. “Unfortunately we get into a place where that is the only remedy feasible to save lives or to bring back critical capabilities.”
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times
A jaw-dropping report by ProPublica detailing how America’s richest men avoided paying taxes has intensified interest in Congress, even among some Republicans, in changing the tax code to ensure that people like Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett pay their fair share.
For Republicans, the idea that the tax code should give preferential treatment to investment has been sacrosanct, ostensibly to promote economic growth and innovation that could benefit everyone. But the news this week showed how the treatment of stocks, bonds, real estate and huge loans taken off those assets has sent the tax bills of the richest Americans plummeting.
“My intention as the author of the 2017 tax reform was not that multibillionaires ought to pay no taxes,” said Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, who helped write the law that slashed taxes by more than $1 trillion. “I believe dividends and capital gains should be taxed at a lower rate, but certainly not zero.”
Democrats, especially in the Senate, have been hard at work on a tax package to finance President Biden’s costly domestic agenda, including a major infrastructure plan, climate change measures and the expansion of education and health care benefits. Much of that work — vehemently opposed by Republicans — has been focused on clawing back tax cuts lavished on corporations by the 2017 tax law, President Donald J. Trump’s signature legislative achievement, and on preventing multinational corporations from shifting taxable profits offshore.
The ProPublica report, analyzing a trove of documents detailing the tax bills of household names such as Mr. Bezos, Mr. Buffett, Elon Musk and Michael Bloomberg, showed that the nation’s richest executives paid just a fraction of their wealth in taxes — $13.6 billion in federal income taxes during a time period when their collective net worth increased by $401 billion, according to a tabulation by Forbes.
“Americans knew that billionaires played these kinds of games,” Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the chairman of the tax-writing Finance Committee, said on Wednesday. “What was significant yesterday was it was all laid out in stark detail about the most affluent people in America.”
He said he was working on an array of proposals to get at the issue, possibly including a return to some kind of minimum tax, and would soon unveil specific proposals.
“Billionaires are going to have to pay their fair share, every year,” he said.
Representative Ilhan Omar is again at odds with her Democratic colleagues over Israel, but this time, she has brought her own country into the mix.
The latest contretemps began on Monday, when Ms. Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, wrote on Twitter about a virtual exchange she had with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. In the actual exchange, Ms. Omar pressed for an investigation of human rights abuses both by Israeli security forces and by Hamas. But on Twitter, she seemed to compare Israel and the United States not only to Hamas, considered a terrorist group by the State Department, but also to the Taliban.
“We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity,” she wrote. “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.”
The analogy prompted outrage from a dozen Jewish Democrats in the House. They issued a statement saying that equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban “is as offensive as it is misguided,” and, in congressional parlance usually meant to elicit an apology, they asked her to “clarify her words.”“Ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and contemptible organizations that engage in terrorism at best discredits one’s intended argument and at worst reflects deep-seated prejudice,” they wrote. “The United States and Israel are imperfect and, like all democracies, at times deserving of critique, but false equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups.”
Rather than apologize, Ms. Omar fired off a defiant response on Thursday morning.
“It’s shameful for colleagues who call me when they need my support to now put out a statement asking for ‘clarification’ and not just call,” wrote Ms. Omar, one of two Muslim women in the House, accusing her detractors of bigotry. “The Islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive. The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable.”
A House Democratic aide familiar with the back-and-forth said Ms. Omar’s anger stemmed from her treatment by the dozen colleagues who publicly upbraided her. She had heard that they were going to publicly call for a clarification of her remarks and reached out to some of them several times on Wednesday. They did not respond before their public chastisement, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
With the world confronting the immediate crisis of a pandemic and the long-term challenge of climate change, President Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain on Thursday turned for inspiration to another period of peril and deep uncertainty.
After meeting face to face for the first time since Mr. Biden assumed the presidency, they announced a renewal of the Atlantic Charter — the declaration of cooperation that Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid out during World War II.
While the two current stewards of the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States have disagreed on critical issues, on Thursday they stressed the enduring strength of the alliance.
When the original Atlantic Charter was signed on Aug. 14, 1941, the Nazis had conquered much of Europe, Britain stood largely alone and the United States had yet to join the war.
But the symbolic import of the Atlantic Charter declaration had been backed up by the passage of the Lend-Lease Act only a short time earlier, allowing the United States to provide critical military equipment to allies.
Before Mr. Biden and Mr. Johnson signed the new document, a senior United States official called it a “profound statement of purpose” that echoes the 80-year-old charter by underscoring the original declaration: that “the democratic model is the right and the just and the best” one for confronting the world’s challenges.
The official, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity before the meeting between the two leaders, said the charter did not envision a new Cold War between great powers, but rather a world whose problems — including climate change, pandemics, technological warfare and economic competition — are complex and often nuanced.
However, at the core of the president’s message during the trip is a central animating theme: The United States and its allies are engaged in an existential struggle between democracy and autocracy.
Johnson Welcomes Biden on His First International Trip as President
President Biden met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain ahead of Friday’s meeting of the Group of 7 leading industrial nations. The bilateral meeting kicks off Mr. Biden’s first international trip as president.
“Thank you. All right.” “Wow, well it’s a great pleasure, Mr. President, to welcome you to Cornwall.” “It’s a great pleasure to be here.” “Fantastic to see you, you know, in what I think is your first big overseas trip since you’ve been —” “It is — I’ve been to your great country many times, but this is the first time as president of the United States.” “Everybody is absolutely thrilled to see you.” “I told the prime minister, we have something in common. We both married way above our station.” “I’m not going to dissent from that one.” I’m not going to disagree with the president or indeed on anything else.”
President Biden met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain ahead of Friday’s meeting of the Group of 7 leading industrial nations. The bilateral meeting kicks off Mr. Biden’s first international trip as president.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
“I believe we’re in an inflection point in world history,” Mr. Biden said on Wednesday evening in a speech to troops stationed at R.A.F. Mildenhall at the start of his European visit. “A moment where it falls to us to prove that democracies not just endure, but they will excel as we rise to seize enormous opportunities in the new age.”
In what he hopes will be a powerful demonstration that democracies — and not China or Russia — are capable of responding to the world’s crises, Mr. Biden announced that the United States would donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine to 100 poorer nations, a program that officials said would cost $1.5 billion.
By playing a leading role in the effort to vaccinate the world and providing resources to confront the gravest public health challenges, officials said the United States was reclaiming a role it has sought to play since the end of World War II.
Mr. Johnson, who is eager to use the summit as a showcase for a post-Brexit identity branded “Global Britain,” has also outlined ambitious plans to help end the pandemic. In the run up to the summit, Mr. Johnson called on leaders to commit to vaccinating every person in the world against the coronavirus by the end of 2022.
Yet while Mr. Johnson and Mr. Biden may find common ground on key issues including the pandemic, fundamental divisions remain.
Mr. Biden opposed Britain’s drive to leave the European Union, a push that Mr. Johnson helped lead. The American president is also concerned about Northern Ireland, since the Brexit deal has threatened to reignite sectarian tensions in the territory.
First Lady Wears Jacket to Send Message on International Trip
Jill Biden, the first lady, wore a black jacket with the word “LOVE” on the back during President Biden’s first in-person meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday. Dr. Biden said her jacket choice and message was to bring “love from America.”
Take away the message on the back of your jacket, if you will. Oh, the love. Yeah, well, I think that we’re bringing love from America. I think that this is a global conference and we’re trying to bring unity across the globe. And I think that’s important right now, that people have to feel a sense of unity for all the countries and feel a sense of hope after this year of the panda.
Jill Biden, the first lady, wore a black jacket with the word “LOVE” on the back during President Biden’s first in-person meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday. Dr. Biden said her jacket choice and message was to bring “love from America.”CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
It seems that the back of a first lady is now the hot place for White House messaging.
During President Biden’s first in-person meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday, Jill Biden, the first lady, wore a black jacket over her black-and-white polka dot dress as the leaders and spouses met on a scenic overlook in the south of England.
The jacket had a single word on it: “LOVE.”
The delivery method — if not the content of the message itself — was an unmistakable echo of the time that Melania Trump, then first lady, famously wore a jacket during a visit to children separated from their parents at the southwestern United States border that said “I really don’t care, do u?”
That message, written in white letters on a green jacket, instantly became a sensation as people sought to find meaning in the harsh-sounding words.
Mrs. Trump’s spokeswoman later said that the message was intended as a slap at journalists, not a comment about the conditions that the migrant children were being kept in after her husband’s policy of separating them from their parents.
But it was clear that Mrs. Trump — like Dr. Biden on Thursday — was well aware that her jacket would be noticed.
Unlike her predecessor, Dr. Biden was quick to provide an immediate explanation and context for her choice of a jacket and the message she was trying to send. In comments to reporters traveling with the president, she said that the jacket was intended to offer a “sense of hope” to a world gripped by Covid.
“I think that we’re bringing love from America,” she said. “This is a global conference, and we are trying to bring unity across the globe. And I think it’s needed right now, that people feel a sense of unity from all the countries and feel a sense of hope after this year of the pandemic.”
She did not, however, say whether her jacket was intended as a rebuke of sorts to Mrs. Trump, or even inspired by the previous incident. Asked about the comparison, her communications director referred to her comments to reporters.
Credit…Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
A year after racial justice protests around the country touched off violent clashes between activists and law enforcement, House Democrats on Thursday opened an investigation into the health effects of the use of tear gas by police.
Two subcommittees of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform began the investigation by asking companies that manufacture and sell tear gas and some government agencies to produce a wide range of documents, seeking to determine whether the federal government has done enough to ensure that the substance is safe to use on humans.
“The United States has agreed not to use tear gas in war,” four Democrats, including the chairmen of the subcommittees, wrote in a letter to the agencies and companies. “However, tear gas is frequently used in this country by law enforcement as a ‘riot control agent.’”
“Given this domestic use, we would have expected an analysis demonstrating that tear gas products are safe to use on humans, but we have not seen this,” they wrote. “In fact, evidence suggests that tear gas may be connected to long-term adverse health impacts for those exposed.”
The letter was signed by Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat of Illinois and the chairman of the subcommittee on economic and consumer policy; Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and the chairman of the subcommittee on civil rights and civil liberties; and two high-profile progressives on the subcommittees, Representatives Cori Bush of Missouri, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
The lawmakers said they had “been unable to determine whether there is any federal oversight regarding the composition or safety of these products.”
Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and chairwoman of the committee, said she supported the inquiry.
At least 100 law enforcement agencies — many in large cities — used some form of tear gas against civilians protesting police brutality and racism last summer, according to an analysis by The New York Times. The brief period saw the most widespread domestic use of tear gas against demonstrators since the long years of unrest in the late 1960s and early ’70s, The Times reported.
In their letter, the lawmakers cited reporting by The Associated Press that military personnel exposed to tear gas in basic training were 2.5 times as likely of being diagnosed later with acute respiratory illness after their exposure to tear gas compared to before the exposure.
“Researchers have expressed concerns about tear gas formulations having gotten stronger over time and how that might factor into long-term health risks of exposure,” they wrote.
The Democrats are seeking information from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice, and the companies Safariland, Combined Systems, and Pacem Defense.
Safariland announced last year that it was leaving the tear gas business after its product was used on protesters in Washington.
The lawmakers asked the federal agencies for any research into the effect of tear gas products on human health and the feasibility of establishing standards for the substances. For the companies, their requests included a list of all the U.S. entities they sold tear gas products, a description of safety testing performed and all internal documents relating to any negative health effects on humans from tear gas.
Credit…Michael R. Blood/Associated Press
A special election to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom of California will cost the state more than $215 million, state finance officials said Thursday. The price tag is about twice what had been expected, but less than the $400 million predicted by local elections officials earlier this year.
Although recall attempts against governors are common in California, they rarely qualify for the ballot. The campaign against Mr. Newsom, which reached critical mass during the pandemic, is only the second in state history to gather enough signatures to trigger a special election.
So far, 46 candidates have officially announced their intention to challenge Mr. Newsom in the recall. The most high-profile candidates are Republicans, including Kevin Faulconer, the former mayor of San Diego; Doug Ose, a former congressman from Sacramento; Caitlyn Jenner, a reality television star and former Olympic athlete; and John Cox, a San Diego businessman who recently distinguished himself by touring the state with a live Kodiak bear.
Voters who signed the petition had until June 8 to change their minds, and counties have until June 22 to adjust their signature tabulation. Several procedural steps, including an official cost estimate, remain before the recall election is scheduled, probably this fall.
In April, the California Association of Clerks and Elected Officials put the price of a recall at about $400 million, based on the costs of the November 2020 election. The estimate released on Thursday came in a memo to the Legislature’s joint budget committee and was drawn from a survey of election officials in the state’s 58 counties.
A separate, official cost estimate is still required under the state’s rules for recall elections, but legislators needed a preliminary number in order to meet a June 15 state budget deadline, said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state finance department.
The estimate does not include costs to the Secretary of State’s office, for example, but helps lawmakers determine how much to appropriate to cover the costs of 58 counties.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
The Supreme Court on Thursday narrowed the reach of the federal Armed Career Criminal Act, a kind of three-strikes statute, ruling by a 5-to-4 vote that violent felonies committed recklessly — as opposed to intentionally or knowingly — do not count as strikes.
The law requires mandatory 15-year sentences for people convicted of possessing firearms if they have earlier been found guilty of three violent felonies. An offense qualifies as a violent felony if it involves “the use, attempted use or threatened use of physical force against the person of another.”
The majority featured an unusual coalition, with Justice Neil M. Gorsuch joining the three-member liberal wing and Justice Clarence Thomas voting with that plurality on different grounds.
The case concerned Charles Borden Jr., who pleaded guilty to a federal gun crime. Prosecutors sought to impose the mandatory 15-year sentence based on three earlier convictions, one of them in Tennessee for reckless assault. That conviction, Mr. Borden argued, should not count as a strike. Lower courts rejected his argument, and he was sentenced under the career-criminal law.
Justice Elena Kagan, writing for four justices, disagreed, saying the law excluded crimes in which the defendant had merely been reckless. The words “against the person of another,” she wrote, requires volitional conduct and “demands that the perpetrator direct his action at, or target, another individual.”
In addition to Justice Gorsuch, Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined Justice Kagan’s plurality opinion.
Justice Thomas agreed with the plurality’s bottom line, but for a different reason. “A crime that can be committed through mere recklessness does not have as an element the ‘use of physical force,’” he wrote, quoting from an earlier opinion, “because that phrase ‘has a well-understood meaning applying only to intentional acts designed to cause harm.’”
In dissent, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote that “the court’s decision overrides Congress’s judgment about the danger posed by recidivist violent felons who unlawfully possess firearms and threaten further violence.”
The number of migrant children and teenagers arriving alone at the United States border with Mexico decreased last month compared to a month earlier, according to newly released Customs and Border Protection data.
There was a slight increase in the number of border crossings, encounters and apprehensions overall during the same time period, a sign that the record surge of migrants trying to get into the country this spring could be starting to stabilize.
But the problem is far from over for the Biden administration, which is currently trying to safely place more than 16,000 migrant children in government custody with family members living in the United States. The administration on Monday threatened to sue the state of Texas if Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, follows through with his threat to shut down more than 50 shelters in the state where thousands of migrant children have been living.
Mr. Abbott’s action, which was part of a disaster order issued at the end of last month, was seen by many as a deliberate swipe at the Biden administration’s more compassionate posture on immigration compared to the restrictive measures of the Trump administration.
It is typical for the number of migrants traveling to the United States through the southern border to increase during spring months, but this year the turnout has been much higher, with a nearly 50 percent increase in border crossings, encounters and apprehensions in March, April and May compared to a similar surge over the same period in 2019.
In a call with reporters Thursday afternoon, administration officials said 38 percent of encounters at the border in May involved a migrant who had crossed the border at least once in the last year, compared to an average recidivism rate of 15 percent from 2014 to 2019.
Republicans have seized on the surge along the southern border, calling it a crisis — a term the Biden administration has avoided.
Most of the adult migrants who have been arriving at the southern border this year have been barred from entering the country because of a public health rule put in place during the Trump administration, which is responsible for more than 463,000 expulsions on the southern border between January and May of this year.
While the last administration also barred children for public health reasons, the Biden administration has been allowing migrant children to enter the country and stay in shelters overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services until they can be placed with a family member or other sponsor. Since the beginning of the year, more than 65,000 migrant children and teenagers arrived alone on the southern border, with record numbers arriving during the spring months. Nearly 2,900 fewer migrant children arrived alone at the southern border in May compared to a month earlier.
Because of a shortage of shelter space at the federal government’s network of state-licensed facilities earlier this year, migrant children were forced to stay in overcrowded holding cells along the southern border long past the legal limit. Earlier this year, the Biden administration moved to set up about a dozen emergency shelters where the children could stay in Health and Human Services custody until they are placed with a family member or sponsor inside the United States.
Recently, migrant children and teenagers have been staying in H.H.S. custody for an average of 37 days, according to government statistics. Children’s advocates have said ideally a child would not have to stay more than 20 days in a government shelter.
Credit…Steve Helber/Associated Press
Former President Donald J. Trump won’t be on the ballot in Virginia, but his political legacy will be. His shadow on the state’s political landscape could have profound implications for the election of a new governor, a contest that figures to be the only major competitive race in the country this fall.
Glenn Youngkin, an affable former private equity executive, is testing whether a Republican can sidestep Mr. Trump without fully rejecting him and still prevail in a state the former president lost by 10 points but where he remains deeply popular with conservative activists.
And in what could be equally revealing, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat seeking to reclaim his old job, is going to determine whether the strategy of linking Republicans to Mr. Trump — a tactic that helped turn Virginia’s suburbs a deeper blue the last four years — is as potent when he’s no longer in the Oval Office, or even on Twitter.
Both questions reflect a larger issue: how strong a tug the country’s polarized and increasingly nationalized politics can have on an off-year state race that’s usually consumed by debates over taxes, transportation, education and the economy.
It’s a real-life political science experiment that is all the richer because it’s taking place in a state that only supported Republicans for president between 1964 and 2008, and where for many years it was the Democrats who had to distance themselves from their national party.
If Republicans are to win back the governorship and reclaim a foothold in this increasingly Democratic state, this would seem to be the year.