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This South Carolina power broker is reshaping Democratic politics

House majority whip Jim Clyburn, the powerful South Carolina Democrat, was in his car on the way to the White House when a call came in from the president of the United States.

Joe Biden wanted to let him know that he’d made the decision to endorse South Carolina as the first state on the primary calendar for 2024, a major coup for Clyburn’s home state. The topic was unusual, but the call was not, Clyburn acknowledged in a recent interview.

“It’s not out of the norm for him to call,” Clyburn said. “We have regular conversations, but I wouldn’t say often.”

It’s a funny understatement of his influence given that the story of Joe Biden becoming president is generally understood to have been made possible by Clyburn — even Clyburn’s makes note of his key endorsement.

Whether their conversations are best described as “often” or “regular,” the news Biden was relaying on this particular phone call was a major shakeup that speaks to the shifting priorities of the president’s party — in this case, its acknowledgement of Black voters and the key role they play in getting Democrats elected. But in elevating South Carolina, the Democratic National Committee snubbed other states, including New Hampshire, which has long had the first primary, and Nevada, whose leaders had been actively campaigning for the slot. The DNC’s final vote is scheduled for February.

In interviews ranging from members of Congress to South Carolina operatives, much of the credit goes to Clyburn, solidifying his reputation as an 82-year-old kingmaker who continues to wield influence as he approaches 30 years in the House. “He deserves 150 percent of the credit for making this happen,” said Colleen Condon, the former chair of the Charleston County Democrats.

Although he’s unwilling to admit that his endorsement of Biden in 2020 had anything to do with Biden’s decision to make South Carolina first on the primary calendar, it may end up being a crown jewel of his legacy.

In the days following the midterm elections, which left House Democrats in the minority but in a better position than many predicted, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and majority leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland both announced their decisions to step aside, allowing a new set of lawmakers to take over in January. But Clyburn declined to join them, instead running for and winning the number four position in leadership: assistant Democratic leader.

“The speaker and the majority leader got to the leadership table a long time before I did,” Clyburn said in an interview when asked about his thinking around staying in leadership. “Nobody focuses on that. Everybody keeps asking me, well, why didn’t you step down when they stepped down? I didn’t step up when they stepped up.”
Clyburn first entered Congress in 1993, and in his telling, he’s there to correct the inequities that long precede his time as a lawmaker.

“A word does not come out of his mouth if he does not know exactly what he’s planning to say and what it’s going to mean, and he understands his power in that way,” said Amanda Loveday, a former communications director to Clyburn and adviser to Unite The Country, a pro-Biden super PAC.

Clyburn said that he stayed in leadership to make sure the South continues to have his voice and that he was supported in this decision by the Congressional Black Caucus, where he’s one of the most senior members. In fact, lawmakers from that caucus and Democratic membership overall say they are enthusiastic he is staying to help in the transition. Among his many mentees is Hakeem Jeffries, the next Democratic minority leader and first Black lawmaker elected to lead the party in the House.

“Jim Clyburn is an incredible leader, I am proud to stand on his shoulders. I look forward to continuing to benefit from his sharp wisdom, insight, and experience as I step into this new role,” Jeffries told the Globe. Asked whether Clyburn’s decision to stay blocked the  Jeffries had a one-word response:

Like Jeffries, many in the party see Clyburn as a bridge between the old guard and the new one.
“As we’re passing the gavel to a new generation of leaders, we still have some challenging waters to navigate,” said outgoing Representative Val Demings of Florida. “And Jim Clyburn will help all of the members who will still be here do that.”

But it has made for a couple of awkward situations. Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island to Clyburn, citing a need for LGBTQ+ representation in leadership, and then.

The cascade effect of his move also directly impacted the decisions of younger members including Representative Joe Neguse, a rising star and former Trump impeachment manager, who changed plans and ran for a lower position than the one he originally sought in the aftermath of Clyburn’s announcement.

Asked whether Clyburn’s decision upset him, Neguse exclaimed “no!” and added that he “wouldn’t characterize it” as Clyburn blocking him. The deference to Clyburn is rare in a world of politicians constantly seeking to climb to the next level.

Still, every decision in politics can have the effect of resetting the board. While Clyburn claims to have little interest in the order of primary states, for example, it’s not an ungrounded suggestion that his endorsement of Biden led to it. And South Carolina has caused some heartburn within the party.

Faiz Shakir, a vocal critic of the South Carolina endorsement and Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign manager, made the case that South Carolina’s conservative state politics are “divorced” from the direction progressives want to go.
“[Clyburn’s] opinion carries weight, and that’s as it should be,” he said, “but we should also be aware that his opinion is biased … towards South Carolina.” Critical decisions about the party’s primary process, he added, shouldn’t be made, “just because we like and respect one individual.”

Clyburn that Shakir’s sounded like “sour grapes.” To the Globe, Clyburn said that while he has made the case for South Carolina as “the perfect political laboratory,” he didn’t ask Biden for the state to be first and said it “is his decision for whatever reason.”

The White House did not return a request for comment but has previously disputed that the 2020 primary results had anything to do with Biden’s decision.

Still, it’s not a perfect streak— his , a South Carolina judge to be nominated as a justice fell short. Biden instead nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black justice.

How long Clyburn’s power can last is uncertain. Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, a Republican who also served alongside Clyburn in the House, recalled that years ago, they found themselves on opposite sides of in South Carolina. “When he digs in, he digs in hard.”

Sanford said that he thinks Clyburn’s power is linked to Biden. “When and if that changes, I suspect his hold on power will change as well,” Sanford said.

When asked what he wants his role in the party to be in the next few years, Clyburn’s thoughts don’t stray from Biden.

“I want my role in the Democratic Party to be whatever it takes to reelect Joe Biden as president,” Clyburn said, adding that he believes it’s the most productive Congress in decades. “I want to see us continue to build upon that because there’s still much more to be done.”


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Pope in Hungary meets with Ukrainian refugees, Russian envoy

Pope Francis plunged into both sides of Russia’s war with Ukraine on Saturday, greeting some of the 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees who have fled across the border to Hungary during a public prayer service and then meeting privately with an envoy of the Russian Orthodox Church that has strongly supported the war.

Francis maintained the Vatican’s tradition of diplomatic neutrality during his second day in Budapest, where he’s on a weekend visit to minister to Hungary’s Catholic faithful.

Starting the day, he thanked Hungarians for welcoming Ukrainian refugees and urged them to help anyone in need. He called for a culture of charity in a country where the prime minister has justified firm anti-immigration policies with fears that migration threatens Europe’s Christian culture.

Speaking in the white-brick St. Elizabeth’s church, named for a princess who renounced her wealth to care for the poor, Francis recalled that the Gospel instructs Christians to show love and compassion to all, especially those experiencing poverty and “even those who are not believers.”

“The love that Jesus gives us and commands us to practice can help to uproot the evils of indifference and selfishness from society, from our cities and the places where we live — indifference is a plague —- and to rekindle hope for a new, more just and fraternal world, where all can feel at home,” he said.

Hungary’s nationalist government has implemented firm anti-immigration policies and refused to accept many asylum-seekers trying to enter the country through its southern border, leading to prolonged legal disputes with the European Union.

The conservative populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has said that migration threatens to replace Europe’s Christian culture. Orbán, who has held office since 2010, has hinged multiple election campaigns on the threats he alleges that migrants and refugees pose to Hungarians.

While Orbán’s government has consistently rejected asylum-seekers from the Middle East and Africa, around 2.5 million Ukrainians fleeing war in their country found open doors. Around 35,000 of the refugees remain in Hungary and have registered for temporary protection there, according to the U.N.

One who has chosen to stay was Olesia Misiats, a nurse who worked in a Kyiv COVID-19 hospital when she fled with her mother and two daughters on Feb. 24, 2022 — the day Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

First she went to the Netherlands, but high costs compelled her to move to Hungary, where she said she has found an apartment and given birth to her third daughter, Mila, who was in the pews Saturday with her mother and sister.

“Here it’s safe,” Misiats said of her new life. She said that she hopes to return to Kyiv one day, but for now she and her children are adapting. “I want to go back home. There it’s my life — it was my life,” she said. “But the war changed my life.”

Immediately after greeting and encouraging the refugees, Francis visited the Greek Catholic church next door, which has been providing aid to refugees. And then he met with the Russian Orthodox Church’s representative in Hungary, Metropolitan Hilarion, who developed close relations with the Vatican during his years as the Russian church’s foreign minister. The Vatican said the 20-minute meeting at the Holy See’s embassy in Budapest was “cordial.”

The Russian church’s strong support for the Kremlin’s war has rankled the Vatican and prevented a second papal meeting with Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Francis and Kirill had a 2016 encounter in Cuba that marked the first between a pope and the head of the Russian church. They had planned a second one in June, but the meeting has been indefinitely postponed over Kirill’s support for the war.

In a statement, Hilarion’s office said that he briefed Francis on the social and educational activities of the Russian church in Hungary and its relations with the Catholic Church here. He said that he gave the pope an Italian translation of a six-volume opus on the life of Christ.

Francis’ visit to Hungary, his second in as many years, is bringing him as close as he’s come to the front lines of the war. Upon arriving in Budapest on Friday, he denounced the “adolescent belligerence” that had brought war back to European soil and demanded the EU recover its values of peaceful unity to end

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As battle for Sudan continues, civilian deaths top 400

– Gunfire and heavy artillery fire persisted Saturday in parts of Sudan’s capital Khartoum, residents said, despite the extension of a cease-fire between the country’s two top generals, whose battle for power has killed hundreds and sent thousands fleeing for their lives.

With ordinary Sudanese caught in the crossfire, the civilian death toll jumped Saturday to 411 people, according to the Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate, which monitors casualties. In some areas in and around the capital, residents reported that shops were reopening and normalcy gradually returning as the scale of fighting dwindled after the shaky truce. But in other areas, terrified residents reported explosions thundering around them and fighters ransacking houses.

Now in its third week, the fighting has wounded 2,023 civilians, the syndicate added, although the true toll is expected to be much higher. The Sudanese Health Ministry put the overall death toll, including fighters, at 528, with 4,500 wounded. In the city of Genena, the provincial capital of war-ravaged West Darfur, intensified violence has killed 89 people, the Doctors’ Syndicate said.

Khartoum, a city of some 5 million people, has been transformed into a front line in the grinding conflict between Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, the commander of Sudan’s military, and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who leads the powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces. The outbreak of violence has dashed once-euphoric hopes for a democratic transition in Sudan after a popular uprising helped oust former dictator Omar al-Bashir.

Foreign countries continued to evacuate their citizens while hundreds of thousands of Sudanese fled across borders. The first convoy organized by the United States to evacuate hundreds of American citizens from the conflict reached the coastal city of Port Sudan Saturday after a dangerous overland journey escorted by armed drones.

Britain meanwhile was ending its evacuation flights Saturday, after demand for spots on the planes declined. The United Arab Emirates announced Saturday it had started evacuating its own citizens along with nationals of 16 other countries.

Over 50,000 Sudanese refugees — mostly women and children — have crossed over to Chad, Egypt, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, the United Nations said, raising fears of regional instability. Ethnic fighting and turmoil has scarred South Sudan and the Central African Republic for years while a 2021 coup has derailed Chad’s own democratic transition.

Those who escape the fighting in Khartoum face more dangers on their way to safety. The route to Port Sudan, where ships evacuate people via the Red Sea, has proven long, exhausting and risky. Hatim el-Madani, a former journalist, said that paramilitary fighters were stopping refugees at roadblocks outside Khartoum, demanding they hand over their phones and valuables.

“There’s an outlaw, bandit-like nature to the RSF,” he said, referring to Dagalo’s Rapid Support Forces. “They don’t have a supply line in place. That could get worse in the coming days.”

Airlifts from the country amid the chaotic fighting also posed challenges, with a Turkish evacuation plane even hit by gunfire outside Khartoum on Friday.

On Saturday — despite a cease-fire extended under heavy international pressure early Friday — clashes continued around the presidential palace, headquarters of the state broadcaster and a military base in Khartoum, residents said. The battles sent thick columns of black smoke billowing over the city skyline.

But in other areas, residents reported signs that the cease-fire had taken hold.

“We are not hearing the bombs as we did before, so we’re hoping that this means they will go back to a political process,” said Osman Mirgany, a columnist and editor of the daily al-Tayar, who assessed it was safe enough on Friday to return home to Khartoum after seeking refuge in a far-flung village.

But Khartoum residents are forced to live side by side with armed fighters. Many RSF militants have moved into civilian homes and taken over stores and hospitals in the capital. The paramilitary group even transformed Mirgany’s newsroom into a makeshift base, he said. Residents also must cope without sufficient electricity and running water, among other basic supplies.

“For the past 14 days we’ve suffered from a lack of everything,” Mirgany said.

Residents in the city of Omdurman, west of Khartoum, have been waiting at least three days to get fuel — complicating their escape plans.

The U.N. relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said that U.N. offices in Khartoum, as well as the cities of Genena and Nyala in Darfur had been attacked and looted. Genena’s main hospital was also leveled in the fighting, Sudan’s health ministry said.

“This is unacceptable — and prohibited under international law,” Griffiths said.

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Will you marry me?’ Bulgarian woman contacts News 6 to expose international romance scheme

A 52-year-old Bulgarian woman currently working in Ireland is the latest target of international imposters who use stolen photos of a handsome Carnival Cruise Line officer in an online dating scheme that steals victims’ money.

Alessandro Cinquini, 29, who is known on dating sites as “Alex the Officer,” first contacted News 6 in March 2022 when he discovered his photographs were being used to fool women from Florida to India.

Vanya Dimova contacted News 6 after seeing our reports about Cinquini on the web.

She said an Alex imposter sent her photos and videos of lavish gifts that included a shimmering engagement ring.

Alessandro Cinquini has gone public to warn women across the globe that imposters have stolen his photographs from social media platforms to create “catfish” style profiles that offer love but target money.

News 6 sent 15 questions to her in advance so Dimova could translate and prepare responses during a Zoom interview.

She said she met the Alex imposter on Instagram back on March 26. According to Dimova, the conversation went from casual to romantic very quickly.

“After two days, he told me he was in love with me,” Danya told News 6. “Every day, he tell me he want to buy a house in Bulgaria and live together.”

Cinquini told News 6 the imposters have never stopped using his photos and he assured us he never contacted Dimova.

They have my old pictures from my old life,” Cinquini said. “Most of those pictures aren’t on my Instagram anymore. I canceled them years ago.”

He told News 6 he currently works as a fleet operation center watch officer for Carnival Cruise Line.

Danya sent News 6 a voice message from a man claiming to be Alex.

“I love you, I love you,” the man said.

The voice sounded nothing like Cinquini

Danya said that voice recording was the only evidence she has. She never met the imposter face-to-face or spoke to him on FaceTime or Zoom.

Danya said she became suspicious when the imposter asked her to pay the shipping charges for her gifts. He sent her a Bank of America receipt to prove his account had been frozen.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, romance scams in the U.S alone netted an estimated $1.3 billion last year, impacting 70,000 men and women.

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