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Russian Disinformation Targets Vaccines and the Biden Administration

A new campaign appears to be spreading falsehoods about the potential for forced inoculations against Covid-19.,

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The cartoon posted on the far-right discussion forum showed police officers wearing Biden-Harris campaign logos on bulletproof vests and battering down a door with a large syringe. A caption read in part, “In Biden’s America.”

The cartoon appears to be an example of the latest effort in Russian-aligned disinformation: a campaign that taps into skepticism and fears of coronavirus vaccination to not just undermine the effort to immunize people but also try to falsely link the Biden-Harris administration to the idea of forced inoculations. The image was one of several spotted by Graphika, a company tracking disinformation campaigns.

Both Russia and China have worked to promote their own vaccines through messaging that undermines American and European vaccination programs, according to the State Department’s Global Engagement Center. But in addition to overt messaging promoting their own vaccines, Moscow has also spread conspiracy theories. Last year, the department began warning about how Russia was using fringe websites to promote doubts around vaccinations.

It is difficult to quantify the amount of disinformation being produced at any time by the Russians or other adversarial powers, government officials and outside experts said. But the rise of the Delta variant of the coronavirus — and shifting scientific advice on how to defend against a more infectious strain and the need for booster shots or masks — has created an atmosphere for misinformation to more easily spread, experts said.

“Disinformation thrives in an information vacuum,” said Lisa Kaplan, the chief executive of the Alethea Group, which helps corporations guard against misinformation. “That is when disinformation can really take hold. And knowing how the Russians typically play those situations, it wouldn’t surprise me they are trying to take advantage of it.”

The aim of various Russian groups continues to be to exacerbate tensions in western societies, a key foreign policy goal of Moscow, according to American officials briefed on the disinformation efforts.

The Russian and Chinese disinformation has tried to magnify the potential side effects of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, suggesting that the mRNA technology they are based on is untested or risky, State Department officials said this week.

In recent weeks, the nature of Russian disinformation has also begun to shift, some officials and outside experts said. Recent postings spreading false information have suggested that the Biden administration is intent on mandating that Americans get vaccines that are failing against the coronavirus.

The campaign also comes as President Biden warned President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia last month to rein in ransomware attacks emanating out of Russia and aimed at critical American infrastructure. Though the ransomware attacks are separate from the disinformation campaigns, the warning was the latest effort by United States officials to prod Russia to rein in destructive digital incursions.

The Biden administration is actively monitoring Russian misinformation and is trying to counter it by encouraging the public to get vaccinated and promoting the safety and efficacy of Western vaccines, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss potentially sensitive information.

While some of the messaging is posted on social media from Russian state-media accounts aims at a potentially wide audience, some of the most audacious disinformation postings have been aimed at much smaller, far-right audiences.

Graphika has tracked disinformation that is probably spread by a group affiliated with people who used to work with the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, which propagated disinformation during the 2016 election. The group has posted cartoons on Patriots.win, a message board featuring far-right politics.

A recent spate of anti-vaccination cartoons appears to have been spread by the same people involved in a fake media outlet linked to veterans of the Internet Research Agency, said Jack Stubbs, Graphika’s director of investigation.

While the group advances Moscow’s strategic narratives, it is unclear what precise ties, if any, it has to the Russian government.

In another cartoon that appears to be the work of the organization, a group of people that the caption suggests might be Texas Democratic legislators reached toward Vice President Kamala Harris in a menacing way.

“We just looking for some democracy,” says one in the group.

“*Cough*. Don’t worry! We took Pfizer shots,” says another.

“To hell with your Pfizer shots,” the cartoon figure of Ms. Harris responds, “I don’t want to get sick.”

The title of the cartoon on the far-right discussion forum suggested the Texas Democrats had given Ms. Harris the virus even though she had been vaccinated. The Texans had gone to Washington last month in an attempt to block voting legislation that they said would disenfranchise minority groups. While in the capital, the group met with Ms. Harris, and several tested positive for the coronavirus, but there is no evidence the vice president became ill.

Understand the State of Vaccine Mandates in the U.S.

College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated for Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get the Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force. In N.Y.C., workers in city-run hospitals and health clinics will be required to get vaccinated or else get tested on a weekly basis.Federal employees. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or be forced to submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel. State workers in New York will face similar restrictions.Can your employer require a vaccine? Companies can require workers entering the workplace to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to recent U.S. government guidance.

The grammatical errors in the cartoon, according to Graphika, are similar to those sometimes made by native Russian speakers writing in English. And the technique of targeting audiences with inflammatory messages around existing social tensions and rifts has long been a hallmark of groups linked to the Internet Research Agency.

“That’s exactly again what they appear to be doing around Covid,” Mr. Stubbs said. “Rather than promote the Russian vaccine or denigrate a Western vaccine, they’re using this as an opportunity to criticize Biden, primarily, and say the Biden administration has been failing and they haven’t been managing the pandemic properly.”

Their use of far-right message boards, including Patriots.win, was earlier reported by Graphika and Reuters.

Much of the disinformation efforts are posted on websites with little to no moderation. Patriots.win, which bills itself as a forum supportive of Donald J. Trump, began on Reddit before it was kicked off. From Patriots.win, some of the material attributed to foreign disinformation campaigns have migrated to larger sites with right-wing audiences like Gab and Parler.

The moderators of Patriots.win responded to a request for comment with an anti-gay slur and suggested, perhaps facetiously, that Chinese organizations were posting material but routing it through Russia to fool journalists.

Measuring the impact of the disinformation efforts is difficult, given the deep divisions over vaccinations that already exist in the United States and Europe; exploiting splits among Americans is a typical Russian tactic. Even on the hard-right discussion forums, some users have fingered the cartoons as being Russian in origin, though the postings have continued.

But the Russian messaging has shifted not just on the far-right sites. Similarly, the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a nonprofit group focused on disinformation, has tracked a change in what the Russian state-run media has been producing.

Earlier, forums like RT, a Kremlin-backed English-language site, were focused on promoting Russia’s vaccine and denigrating western vaccines. But more recently, Russia’s state-run media has been “really leaning into the culture war debates over vaccine and mask mandates,” said Bret Schafer, a disinformation expert at the Alliance for Securing Democracy.

Russia uses RT and other state-controlled media to amplify American and international skeptics of vaccines and mask mandates, according to an American official.

RT has published articles highlighting athletes who are resisting pressure to get vaccinated. It has also suggested liberals were taking at face value Donald Trump Jr.’s facetious remark that vaccinations could be required to vote. And it has published essays aimed at exacerbating divisions over mask requirements.

The efforts are not just targeting Americans, Mr. Shafer said. RT’s German language YouTube feed has focused on public resistance to vaccines. “They’re hitting the same notes,” he said, “with most of their Western propaganda outlets.”

Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting.

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Head of American Federation of Teachers Signals Openness to Vaccine Mandates

“We are considering all alternatives, including looking at vaccine mandates,” Randi Weingarten said. Nearly 90 percent of teachers are already vaccinated.,

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The head of the most powerful U.S. teachers’ union signals an openness to vaccine mandates.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in Manhattan this year.Credit…Ira Lupu for The New York Times

Aug. 5, 2021, 2:37 p.m. ET

The president of the most powerful U.S. teachers’ union signaled a growing openness to coronavirus vaccine mandates for teachers on Thursday, as the highly contagious Delta variant rips through the country and millions of unvaccinated children are about to return to the classroom.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, which has 1.7 million members across the country, said that she had not ruled out support for a vaccine mandate.

“Things have changed with Delta raging, and with the proximity of the full approval of the vaccines,” she told The New York Times on Thursday. “Because of those two facts, we are considering all alternatives, including looking at vaccine mandates.”

“It’s all about the North Star being, how do we make sure we keep our communities, ourselves, our families and our students safe?” she said.

The three vaccines are being administered under emergency use authorization, but the Food and Drug Administration is planning to fully approve one of the vaccines — by Pfizer-BioNTech — by the start of next month. Fully vaccinated people are protected against the worst outcomes of Covid-19, including those caused by the Delta variant. Children under 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

Nearly 90 percent of teachers and school employees nationwide are already vaccinated, and Ms. Weingarten said she had been focused on persuading the remaining holdouts amid a push to get children back in the classroom.

“Up until the last few weeks, we have thought the way to do it is through persuasion,” Ms. Weingarten said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe earlier on Thursday. But she said she was now considering “all options.”

Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, has similarly expressed a commitment to returning to in-person instruction, and has said that any vaccine mandates should be negotiated at a local level.

“Everyone who can be vaccinated should be vaccinated and if they can’t they should be tested on a regular basis,” she said in a statement on Thursday.

Employers generally have the right to require vaccination, and a growing number — from Walmart to the federal government — have begun asking at least some workers to get vaccinated.

Teachers’ unions had been seen as a potential complicating factor to requiring vaccinations in schools, in part because some local contracts may require such a mandate to be negotiated.

But the Delta variant is increasingly creating new urgency around the issue.

This week, the city of Denver imposed a vaccine mandate on many workers, including school employees.

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that the state was considering mandating vaccines for teachers if virus numbers continued to worsen. The United Federation of Teachers, New York City’s powerful union, has told its members to prepare for the possibility of mandates, even before the vaccine is fully approved by the F.D.A.

Mandates for teachers do not necessarily extend to students. Though schools have long required children to be vaccinated for certain diseases, the youngest children are not yet eligible for the coronavirus vaccine and for now, conversations have centered on whether or not students will be required to wear masks.

Eliza Shapiro contributed reporting

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Schumer Said to Tell Senators to Expects Votes on Voting Rights

The move is likely futile amid Republican opposition, but it reflects a sense of urgency among Democrats to act.,

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Schumer is said to tell senators to expect votes on voting rights legislation within days.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wears a protective mask while arriving to the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Thursday.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Aug. 5, 2021, 3:01 p.m. ET

Senate Democrats will make another, likely futile, attempt to take up voting rights legislation in the coming days before the chamber leaves Washington for a summer recess, a sign that party leaders remain determined to try to break a logjam on the issue as Republican-led states lock in new ballot restrictions.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, has privately told senators to expect additional votes on the matter on the Senate’s way out of town, according to Democrats familiar with the private discussions, who described them on the condition of anonymity. The development is welcome news for voting rights activists, who have been worried that Democrats’ monthslong push to enact a massive bipartisan infrastructure bill would eclipse voting rights and sap any appetite for an aggressive bid to try to steamroll Republicans and act on it unilaterally.

But the party’s endgame remains far from clear. Republicans have blocked Democrats’ marquee voting rights legislation once with a filibuster, and have the votes to do so again. As such, Democrats’ only conceivable path forward would require changing the Senate’s filibuster rule. Doing so would require the support of all of their members, including some swing-vote Democrats, like Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who are adamantly opposed.

Democrats are up against an increasingly daunting deadline to act. Lawyers have warned party leaders that any election changes would likely have to take effect in the next month to impact the 2022 balloting. If not, Democrats will be competing in several swing states based on Republican-written rules that they fear will make it harder to turn out voters of color, a key constituency.

“There is a deep sense of urgency among many of us in the caucus,” said Senator Raphael Warnock, Democrat of Georgia. “We are witnessing an unabashed assault on voting rights — not just suppression, but an effort to overthrow the results at the local level. And it would be irresponsible for us not to do everything we can to address that.”

The Washington Post earlier reported on Mr. Schumer’s private comments on the matter.

Mr. Warnock, who is running for election next fall, is preparing to compete in a state where Republicans moved decisively this spring to make mail-in voting more difficult, constrain early voting and shift power over elections toward the G.O.P.-led legislature. In an interview, Mr. Warnock said he was all for passing an infrastructure bill, but called it a “mistake” to do so without addressing “the infrastructure of our democracy.”

He and other progressives still hope that they can prevail on moderate holdouts like Mr. Manchin to alter the Senate rules. And they view additional votes on the Senate floor as a key to making their case that Republicans are not willing to find common ground.

As of Thursday, senior Democrats were still trying to hash out what exactly they would vote on in the coming days. Mr. Schumer met on Wednesday with a group of senators working on a scaled-back version of the For the People Act, the sprawling elections overhaul bill that Senate Republicans blocked in June. They believed they could reach agreement among themselves within days.

Party leaders expect their new bill will win support from all 50 Democrats and independents in the Senate, in part by lopping off ethics provisions included in the original bill, scaling back its mandates for automatic voter registration, excising a public campaign financing system for senators and backing off an attempt to change the composition of the Federal Election Commission in favor of other changes.

Democrats are still assembling a second voting rights bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which could come up for a vote both in the House and the Senate in the fall. It would restore key enforcement powers under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.

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Biden Defers Deportation of Hong Kong Residents in U.S.

President Biden said there were “compelling foreign policy reasons” for the order, which would give any resident of Hong Kong targeted for deportation an 18-month reprieve.,

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Biden defers deportations of Hong Kong residents in the U.S.

A protest in Hong Kong in May in support of 47 pro-democracy activists who were charged under China’s national security law. The high threshold for bail means that most are likely to spend months if not years in jail before they go to trial.Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Aug. 5, 2021, 1:14 p.m. ET

President Biden on Thursday granted special protections to Hong Kong residents in the United States, offering them a temporary deferral from deportation in response to an escalating crackdown by Chinese officials on democratic institutions and political dissent in Hong Kong.

In a memo announcing the decision, Mr. Biden said there were “compelling foreign policy reasons” for the order, which would give any resident of Hong Kong targeted for deportation an 18-month reprieve to live temporarily in the United States.

“Over the last year, the P.R.C. has continued its assault on Hong Kong’s autonomy, undermining its remaining democratic processes and institutions, imposing limits on academic freedom, and cracking down on freedom of the press,” Mr. Biden said in the memo, noting that at least 10,000 people, including pro-democracy officials and activists, have been arrested in connection with anti-government protests that began in 2019.

Mr. Biden added that “offering safe haven for Hong Kong residents who have been deprived of their guaranteed freedoms in Hong Kong furthers United States interests in the region.”

Antony J. Blinken, the secretary of state, said in a statement that “Hong Kong’s promise of democracy has dimmed,” and that the United States will offer safe haven to residents who fear returning to the city.

The order is the latest move by the Biden administration seeking to respond to the crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong. The United States sanctioned Chinese officials last month for their role in undermining Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms. Earlier sanctions that were imposed by the Trump administration had barred other officials involved in the crackdown from traveling to the United States and had frozen their assets in the country.

Beijing imposed a sweeping new security law in June 2020, granting broad powers to suppress dissent in the city, laying out new offenses such as “separatism” and “collusion with foreign forces” that carry penalties up to life imprisonment. It also demanded oversight of schools and media.

Since that law took force, Beijing has unleashed a stampede of actions to bring Hong Kong into political lockstep with the mainland: arresting activists, seizing assets, firing government workers, detaining newspaper editors and rewriting school curriculums.

The high threshold for bail means that most of those who have been charged under the security law are likely to spend months if not years in jail before they go to trial.

Life in the city has been drastically altered. Residents swarm police hotlines to inform on their neighbors and colleagues. Police officers goose-step in formation in the streets. And civil servants have been ordered to sign pledges of fealty to the government.

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Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas Calls Another Special Session

The move was a new attempt to force Democrats in the state’s House of Representatives to return from Washington. Their absence has prevented Texas Republicans from passing a voting bill and other measures.,

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Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas calls a new legislative special session, putting pressure on Democrats.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas speaking at a news conference in Austin in early June. On Thursday, the day before the current special session of the Texas Legislature was to expire, Mr. Abbott called for another special session that is set to begin on Saturday.Credit…Eric Gay/Associated Press

Aug. 5, 2021, 1:24 p.m. ET

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas on Thursday called a new special session of the Texas Legislature that is set to begin on Saturday, a swift move that puts pressure on Democratic lawmakers who left the state for Washington last month to block the passage of a major Republican bill overhauling Texas elections.

The current special session is set to expire on Friday, but Mr. Abbott issued his call a day early. With the Democrats’ absence from the state House of Representatives denying the chamber a quorum, the Legislature has been unable to pass any new laws. Mr. Abbott has vowed to call as many special sessions as required to pass the elections bill and other conservative priorities.

“The Texas Legislature achieved a great deal during the 87th Legislative Session, and they have a responsibility to finish the work that was started,” Mr. Abbott said in a statement. “I will continue to call special session after special session to reform our broken bail system, uphold election integrity, and pass other important items that Texans demand and deserve.”

The agenda for the latest special session remains largely the same; in addition to a new voting bill, Mr. Abbott is calling on the Legislature to pass laws that would restrict the rights of transgender student athletes, limit the ways that students are taught about racism, add additional border security, further limit access to abortion and crack down on perceived censorship of conservatives by social media companies, among other proposals.

The governor did add one new priority to his list of 17 agenda items — “Legislation relating to legislative quorum requirements” — thought it was unclear what that might mean.

Mr. Abbott will also call state lawmakers to address his veto of funding for the Legislature, which has put the salaries and benefits of hundreds of staff members who work in the Statehouse in jeopardy. Mr. Abbott vetoed the funding this year as a punishment for the Democrats’ late-night walkout of the original legislative session to prevent a voting bill from passing.

The new special session presents a new fork in the road for the Texas Democrats who have been staying in Washington for the past 24 days, trying to pressure President Biden and leading Democrats in Congress to push for federal legislation to protect voting rights. In recent days, with the end of the first special session approaching, the Democrats have weighed whether to return home or remain in the nation’s capital.

They currently have an event scheduled for Friday outside the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill to “address their victory in killing the Texas Republicans’ anti-voter measures back home.”

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Guantanamo Bay Will Test Vaccinated Visitors, Not Quarantine Them

The testing is meant to forestall universal quarantining at the isolated U.S. naval base in Cuba, which would complicate upcoming hearings in terrorism cases.,

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Guantanamo will step up testing of vaccinated visitors, following a rise in virus cases.

The naval base at Guantanamo Bay has managed to avoid any major coronavirus outbreaks so far, but has recently detected seven cases among residents and visitors. Members of the military and their relatives, base workers and journalists debarked from a ferry at Guantanamo Bay in 2019.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Aug. 5, 2021, 1:41 p.m. ET

The United States Navy captain in charge of the base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has decided to increase testing of fully vaccinated visitors to the base, rather than put them in a weeklong quarantine, following the discovery of several coronavirus cases at the isolated base.

Since July 20, base officials said, seven people who traveled to the base following negative virus tests were later found to be infected. One of the seven, a base resident, was evacuated to a health care facility in the United States, said Dawn C. Grimes, a spokeswoman for the base hospital.

The base commander, Capt. Samuel White, ordered a seven-day quarantine for all vaccinated visitors and returning residents on Monday, but then lifted the order again shortly afterward. The order was a significant departure from the Pentagon’s wider practice, which permits installation commanders to quarantine unvaccinated people for up to 14 days as a precaution.

Now, Navy health workers at the base will test all passengers for the virus on arrival, regardless of vaccination status, and will immediately quarantine those who test positive, said Nikki L. Maxwell, a spokeswoman for Captain White. All unvaccinated visitors will also be quarantined.

The change in course means that the military judge, lawyers and other court personnel who will travel to the base for the arraignment of three Southeast Asian prisoners, scheduled for Aug. 30, will not have to arrive a week early, as long as they are vaccinated. The arraignment is the first consequential hearing to be held by the military commissions at the base since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The three prisoners, who have been held in United States custody for 18 years, are scheduled to go before a judge for the first time, on charges that they conspired in two deadly terrorist bombings in Indonesia in 2002 and 2003. They were captured in Thailand in 2003; one of them, an Indonesian man known as Hambali, was once a leader of the extremist group Jemmah Islamiyah.

The arraignment was originally scheduled for Feb. 22, but was postponed because of the pandemic.

The base has already been requiring arriving passengers to show a negative result on a P.C.R. test for the virus performed less than 72 hours before flying Guantanamo Bay. The new policy calls for another test upon arrival for fully vaccinated people. Military officials were also considering adding yet another test, to be taken at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C., before boarding a flight to Guantanamo.

The naval base in Cuba, with about 6,000 residents and a small hospital, has so far been able to avoid a major coronavirus outbreak through isolation, testing and quarantines. It disclosed two cases in the spring of 2020 before the Pentagon adopted a policy of not reporting case tallies base by base.

According to base spokesmen, the seven recent cases connected with Guantanamo Bay included three unvaccinated residents who were quarantined on arrival and later tested positive; two vaccinated residents who tested positive within a week of arrival; and two vaccinated foreign journalists who visited the base from July 26 to July 29 and later tested positive.

It was not immediately known whether any of the recent cases were linked to the Delta variant of the virus. Fully vaccinated people are protected against the worst outcomes of Covid-19, including those caused by the Delta variant.

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Western Wildfire Smoke Spreads Unhealthy Air

We’re on top of the latest extreme weather in the U.S. and around the world. Follow here for news on heat waves, wildfires, floods and more.,

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Summer camps are canceled as Western wildfire smoke spreads.

Smoke from the Red Apple Fire covered Wenatchee, Wash., last month. Many areas of the state have continued to experience hazardous air quality.Credit…David Ryder/Reuters

By The New York Times

Aug. 5, 2021, 5:01 a.m. ET

Summer camps in eastern Washington State had to shut down this week after a stretch of unhealthy haze. Officials in Montana issued air quality warnings for nearly the entire state. And Denver residents were said to be comparing hazy conditions to the “brown cloud” that resulted from traffic pollution in the 1990s.

Wildfire smoke has been a problem across the country again this summer, following a fire season last year during which conditions got so bad that officials started telling Colorado residents to create a purified “safe room” as a barrier against the stifling smoke and ozone.

Minnesota, whose skies have been darkened by smoke from Canada for much of the summer, saw improvement this week as wind patterns shifted. But farther west, in the northern Rockies and parts of the Pacific Northwest, air quality this week hit its lowest points of the summer.

The National Weather Service office in Spokane, Wash., issued an air quality alert for the region early this week, along with an excessive heat watch.

The combination of heat and smoke prompted closures of outdoor attractions across the region, including at Spokane’s Riverfront Park, and several summer camps were forced to send children home, according to The Spokesman-Review in Spokane.

Summer camps across the country are increasingly dealing with the impacts of climate change, including punishing heat waves and smoke from wildfires that are burning earlier and more intensely because of hot, dry conditions.

“It’s unfortunate that smoke is now the fifth season,” Angela Simpson, a parent who had to pick her child up from a camp in western Idaho, told the Spokane newspaper.

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The First Debate in the Newsom Recall

A dispatch from Orange County, where four candidates vying to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom squared off in a debate.,

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Four of the 41 people running against Gov. Gavin Newsom took the stage for a debate Wednesday: from left, John Cox, Kevin Faulconer, Kevin Kiley and Doug Ose. Credit…Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

YORBA LINDA — Last night was the first debate in the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, an election that could significantly reshape the future of California.

But the governor declined an invitation to attend the event, held at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library.

Also missing: Caitlyn Jenner, the best-known candidate running to replace him, and Larry Elder, the conservative talk show host who’s the leading challenger in the polls.

That is perhaps not surprising in California, a state where political apathy runs high and voter turnout is low. It’s typical to hear that people don’t know that Newsom is facing a recall, let alone the names of his challengers.

On Wednesday, just four of the 41 people running against Newsom did take the stage: the former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer, the former Republican representative Doug Ose, State Assemblyman Kevin Kiley and John Cox, who unsuccessfully ran for governor against Newsom in 2018.

The wide-ranging debate covered drug cartels, the coronavirus, education, wildfires, housing, cancel culture and more. The common theme? Newsom’s failures.

Ose explained delays in state unemployment payments this way, though it could have been an answer to any question, delivered by any of the candidates: “This really does lay right at Governor Newsom’s feet.”

The California Recall Election

Understand the Recall Election: These 12 questions help explain the historical, political and logistical forces behind the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom of California.How Gavin Newsom Got Here: The campaign to recall the state’s governor shows that even a one-party stronghold like California can be rocked by the nation’s political polarization.Campaign Qualifies for Ballot: The 1.6 million voters who signed a petition for the Republican-led recall effort have 30 business days to ask to have their names removed if they so choose.The Pandemic’s Impact on the Election: The recall has highlighted the differences between the powerhouse California that elected Gavin Newsom and the virus-battered California he now governs. And it has raised a question for all governors: Are 2020’s leaders still what is needed in 2021?

For 90 minutes, the candidates heaped criticism on Newsom’s policies in front of an audience of dozens of maskless people. (While Los Angeles County has a universal indoor mask mandate, Orange County does not. Seeing that many bare faces took me aback at first.)

Cox said he opposed the vaccine mandate for state employees that Newsom recently imposed. Ose objected to mask mandates. Faulconer said he didn’t support teaching critical race theory in schools. Kiley spoke out against vaccine passports and offering cash prizes to people who get their shots.

“It’s a perfect case study for the perversity of California politics,” Kiley said.

The debate felt more like a G.O.P. primary than a debate in the California governor race, and not just because the candidates were Republicans.

Just outside the debate room, black-and-white photos of Nixon flanked the walls. A bronze bust of the former president watched passers-by. In one corner, a machine advertised that it could stretch a penny into the shape of Nixon’s face.

Toward the end of the debate, the candidates touched on a favorite criticism of Newsom — that people are moving out of the state. California’s population dropped last year for the first time in more than a century.

“People are voting with their feet,” Faulconer said. “The reality is that we have a governor who doesn’t seem to think it’s a problem.”

Faulconer asked the audience to give a show of hands if they or someone they knew were thinking about leaving California. Several people raised one of their hands into the air.

Ose raised both.

For more:

Newsom and his allies have raised more than $51 million to fight the recall, more than twice as much as every major Republican candidate and pro-recall committee combined, The Los Angeles Times reports.

In a recent interview, Elder said that if elected, he would abolish the minimum wage. “The ideal minimum wage is $0.00,” he said, according to The Sacramento Bee.

Newsom’s biggest challenger may be apathy among Democrats, The Los Angeles Times reports. Though Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly two to one, more Republicans may show up to the polls on Election Day.

Image

A saguaro skeleton in Saguaro National Park in Tucson.Credit…Cassidy Araiza for The New York Times

If you read one story, make it this

My colleague Simon Romero’s latest article explores the threats facing the saguaro cactus, the majestic symbol of the Southwest. Desert plants are designed to survive tough conditions, but wildfires, climate change and urbanization may be too much for this cactus.

The rest of the news

California

Water curtailment: Amid an ongoing drought, thousands of Californians, primarily farmers, will be barred from using stream and river water. However, water for drinking, bathing and domestic purposes won’t be subject to the restrictions, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Vaccine mandate: Kaiser Permanente, the Oakland-based health care giant, has ordered that all employees get the Covid-19 vaccine, The Sacramento Bee reports.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Drinking at the Rose Bowl: The Rose Bowl in Pasadena will sell alcohol at U.C.L.A. football games for the first time since 1989, L.A. Weekly reports.

Sailor charged with arson: Ryan Sawyer Mays, a 20-year-old junior enlisted Navy sailor, was identified and formally charged with arson for starting a fire that destroyed a warship at a Navy base in San Diego last year.

Night market: Steve Lopez, a columnist for The Los Angeles Times, makes a case for shutting down the Lincoln Heights night market, saying it’s become a “nightmare” for neighborhood residents.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

Breakthrough infections: At least 233 new Covid-19 infections were recorded among staff members at U.C.S.F. and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, according to The SFist. Eighty percent of infected individuals had been vaccinated, but only two vaccinated staff members were hospitalized.

Star restaurants: Ten Bay Area eateries have been named “new discoveries” by the Michelin Guide, The Mercury News reports.

Farmwork in the heat: David Bacon photographed the daily work of farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley. Summer is the season with the most demand for field labor, so the workers, mostly immigrants, have no other choice but to work, reports Capital & Main.

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Credit…Dylan Wilson for The New York Times

What we’re eating

It’s cucumber season. Make some quick pickles.

Where we’re traveling

Today’s California travel tip comes from Mike Meko, a reader who lives in Arroyo Grande. Mike writes:

We recently traveled to Lassen National Park and really enjoyed our three days exploring the park. It was beautiful and uncrowded. We hiked for two of the three days and only met a few other hikers on the trail. We wondered why there were so few people there as well as why it took us so long to discover this amazing place.

Tell us about the best hidden gems to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more hidden gems in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Comedian Minhaj with two Peabody awards (5 letters).

Steven Moity and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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U.S News

Democratic Group’s Ad Pushes Biden on Voting Rights and Filibuster

The ad, aired by a major Democratic group, urges the president to support abolishing the filibuster so that Congress can pass federal legislation protecting voting rights.,

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In a new ad, a Democratic group pointedly pushes Biden on voting rights and the filibuster.

Aug. 5, 2021, 9:30 a.m. ET

A major Democratic nonprofit group is taking aim at President Biden in a new television ad, urging the president to take a more aggressive and concrete stand on overhauling the filibuster to pass federal voting legislation.

The ad, aired by a group called End Citizens United and Let America Vote Action Fund, is the first to publicly call out the president by name on the issue and is yet another sign of growing tension between the White House and left-leaning voting rights groups over the federal response to a wave of new laws governing elections from states with Republican-controlled legislatures this year.

The ad, which will begin airing on Friday, is centered on comments by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made at a 1963 news conference. In those remarks, the civil rights leader denounced the filibuster, a procedural tool that requires a supermajority of 60 votes to bring bills to a final vote. Its use has often stymied major legislation.

In the ad, as the screen flickers between long voting lines in the 1960s and more recent elections, King says: “Senators who will use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting — and certainly they would not want the majority of people to vote because they know they do not represent the majority of the American people.”

The group said it would spend $1.1 million on the ad, which will air on broadcast and cable television in Washington, D.C.; Michigan; Pennsylvania; and Wisconsin, including during Olympics broadcasts.

“This moment calls for presidential leadership, and we’re asking President Biden to fight like heck and use every tool available to him, including using his relationships in the Senate, to call for a reform to the filibuster to protect this sacred right,” said Tiffany Muller, the president of End Citizens United and Let America Vote Action Fund.

The president has called on Congress to pass a federal voting rights law, including in an impassioned speech last month in Philadelphia in which he called restrictive voting laws in states like Georgia, Florida and Iowa “the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War.”

But he has stopped short of publicly calling for a change to the filibuster, which would almost certainly be necessary to pass any kind of voting legislation in the Senate, where both parties hold 50 seats and Vice President Kamala Harris can break ties.

The ad closes with a clear directive: “President Biden, please, tell the Senate: Reform the filibuster. Everything is at stake.”

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U.S News

Texas High School Principal Sees Racism in Calls to Remove Intimate Photos

James Whitfield, a Black educator, said he was asked by his school district in 2019 to remove Facebook photos of himself and his wife, who is white, embracing on a beach.,

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In June 2019, shortly after James Whitfield, a Black educator, was hired as the principal of a middle school in Colleyville, Texas, an administrator with the school district called and asked him to take down photos on Facebook that showed him and his wife, who is white, embracing intimately on a beach.

Puzzled why someone had dug up 10-year-old images of the couple celebrating their anniversary in Mexico, Dr. Whitfield nonetheless complied by changing the settings to “Only Me.” But the photos have now resurfaced amid a controversy over racism that erupted in the Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District after Dr. Whitfield wrote a Facebook post on Saturday about the request. Some have publicly called for Dr. Whitfield to be fired, citing unrelated messages in which he invoked race, while others have circulated a petition in support of his work.

When Dr. Whitfield, 43, asked what was wrong with the photos, “The response was ‘nothing,'” he recalled in an interview on Wednesday. “Then they proceeded to say: ‘We just don’t want to get stuff stirred up. So if you could take it down, we would appreciate it.'”

From that moment, Dr. Whitfield said, he had a sense that issues of race would overshadow his tenure as a Black educator rising in the ranks of the district’s public school system.

“I knew what would come one day,” he said. “I knew a day like this would be here.”

Dr. Whitfield said he wrote the post — the first time he has addressed his situation publicly — because he could no longer be silent after he was criticized on July 26 during a previously scheduled board meeting that was open to residents of the district, where he is now the first Black principal at Colleyville Heritage High School.

At the meeting, Dr. Whitfield found himself thrust into some of the most pressing racial debates in the United States, including loaded discussions of critical race theory, last summer’s protests after the death of George Floyd, and programs meant to ensure equality and diversity.

“For the better part of the last year, I’ve been told repeatedly to just ‘get around the fact that there are some racist people’ and ‘just deal with it and stay positive’ each time the racist tropes reared their heads, but I will stay silent no longer,” Dr. Whitfield wrote.

“I am not the CRT (Critical Race Theory) Boogeyman,” he wrote. “I am the first African American to assume the role of Principal at my current school in its 25-year history, and I am keenly aware of how much fear this strikes in the hearts of a small minority who would much rather things go back to the way they used to be.”

Critical race theory seeks to understand the roots and persistence of racial disparities, but some of its opponents insist that acknowledging racism is itself racist. Dr. Whitfield said in the interview that such studies are “doctoral level” and are not a framework taught at his school.

In a statement, the district did not address the July 26 meeting, at which the photographs were not raised, but it said the request to remove them in 2019 was meant to provide a “smooth transition” just as Dr. Whitfield was preparing to lead Heritage Middle School.

“When a social media concern is brought to the attention of the district, we have a responsibility to review it,” it said. “Some of the photos the district received contained poses that are questionable for an educator, especially a principal or administrator. It had absolutely nothing to do with race.”

The district distributed the photos to news organizations when asked about them.

According to Dr. Whitfield, the remarks at the board meeting — which he said struck just the sort of tone he had suspected would come his way after the request to delete the photos — sought to hold him, as a Black educator, to a different standard.

Some speakers who identified themselves as parents complained of a “social justice” focus in the curriculum or criticized “political activism” concerning race in the district, which includes most of Grapevine and Colleyville, as well as other parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. A woman pushed back at the “blatant bigotry and hate” at the meeting and another, critical of the tone, said “racism exists.”

The only person to mention the principal by name at the forum was a man introduced as Stetson Clark, who said he and “many” others were concerned about the “implementation of critical race theory in our district,” which he said aligned with “the views and goals” of Dr. Whitfield.

He said he was “first made aware of Mr. Whitfield’s extreme views on race” when a friend shared a letter written by Dr. Whitfield that was sent to parents and students last year that he said showed the principal was concerned about systemic racism, which Mr. Clark described as a “conspiracy theory.”

He was interrupted by a board member, who reminded him that it was against policy to cite employees by name. As shouts of “fire him” erupted from the audience, Mr. Clark pressed on, saying Dr. Whitfield’s letter was “encouraging all members of our community to become revolutionaries by becoming antiracists.”

Though Mr. Clark was reprimanded a second time, he mentioned other objections.

“Because of his extreme views, I ask that a full review of Mr. Whitfield’s tenure in our district be examined and that his contract be terminated effective immediately,” Mr. Clark continued, prompting hearty applause and whoops of approval from some in the audience.

In its statement, the district said Mr. Clark had violated procedures by criticizing an employee by name and it would not be allowed again.

In his July 31 Facebook post, Dr. Whitfield responded to some of the criticisms. He said he had sent a message to parents and students about Mr. Floyd’s murder, which took place about a week after he became principal. The message said Mr. Floyd “added to the ever-growing list of Black Americans who have lost their lives because of the color of their skin.”

He also responded to Mr. Clark’s complaint about books he has recommended. Dr. Whitfield said he has quoted from “A Fool’s Errand,” a book by the founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and for his support of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In the interview he said he had received an “overwhelming outpouring of support” from parents, students and other educators. By Thursday, more than 1,000 people had signed the online petition #IStandWithDrWhitfield and bolstered his messages on Twitter.

But he said he had moved on, focusing on a new school year and his nearly 2,000 students from families who speak over 54 different languages at home.

“My job is to make sure that they feel welcome and that they are going to get a strong education,” he said.

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