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As Bloomberg's campaign nears launch, he goes on an apology tour

Michael Bloomberg on Sunday at the Christian Cultural

Michael Bloomberg on Sunday at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn. Credit: Getty Images / Yana Paskova

Cleanup in aisle ’20

It's been almost six years since Michael Bloomberg wrapped up 12 years in charge of New York's City Hall. From start to finish and after, Bloomberg resolutely defended the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy under his mayoralty, brushing aside protests it unfairly targeted blacks and Latinos as well as a federal judge's ruling that it was unconstitutional.

In 2013, his final year in office, Bloomberg even said, "I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little." But on Sunday, with the launch of a Democratic presidential campaign perhaps only days away, Bloomberg announced he'd had a change of heart, reports Newsday's Ted Phillips.

“I want you to know that I realize back then I was wrong, and I’m sorry,” Bloomberg told the congregation at the Christian Cultural Center, a black megachurch in Brooklyn. “Our focus was on saving lives,” he explained. “The fact is, far too many innocent people were being stopped while we tried to do that. And the overwhelming majority of them were black and Latino.”

It was Bloomberg's second try at self-reinvention in less than a week, coming after a spokesman relayed the billionaire's regrets over "disrespectful and wrong" past remarks about women. Given that he is preparing for a Democratic nomination fight that is unwinnable without support from African American, Latino and female voters, the mea culpa triggered skeptical reactions.

"Up until recently he was holding steady, so I’m very concerned about this eleventh-hour conversion because he wants to run for president,” New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said. "The timing is transparent and cynical," said Mayor Bill de Blasio, elected largely on his vow to end stop-and-frisk. Interviewed by CNN, de Blasio said, "This is a deathbed conversion."

Critics didn't come only from the left. New York City Police Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch said the policy “inspired an anti-police movement that has made cops the target of hatred and violence." He called the apology "too little, too late," saying Bloomberg should have "just listened to the police officers on the street."

The Rev. Al Sharpton, long a Bloomberg antagonist on the issue, held open a possibility of redemption. "It’s going to take more than one speech for people to forgive and forget," Sharpton said. "I think that we at the same time have to hear him out if he runs, just like we’re hearing out Joe Biden, who authored the [1994] crime bill that incarcerated a lot of blacks disproportionately, and Bernie Sanders, who voted for it.”

Traffic jam in center lane

Bloomberg and another late entry, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, are looking to offer moderate Democrats an alternative to Biden. But so is a candidate who's been running since early this year, and is now surging — Pete Buttigieg.

A CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll of likely Iowa caucusgoers shows Buttigieg leaping into first place with 25%, a clear lead over Elizabeth Warren at 16% and Biden and Sanders at 15% each.

A CBS News Battleground Poll of early primary and caucus states through Super Tuesday finds that Biden and Buttigieg offer the most relief to Democrats worried about choosing a candidate too liberal to beat Donald Trump. Only 6% have trepidation about Biden and 17% about Buttigieg on that score. There's higher anxiety about Sanders (44%) and Warren (36%).

A top concern about Warren outside the progressive wing has been her call for a "Medicare for All" plan that would end private health insurance. On Friday, she added a caveat with an apparent aim of trying to calm critics — she'd take a gradual approach in the first two years of her presidency and not seek a full transition until the third year.

The same day, former President Barack Obama advised Democrats to ease up on revolutionary ideas. “This is still a country that is less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement,” he said at the annual meeting of the Democracy Alliance. “The average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.”

Pelosi dares Trump: Come testify

With Trump tweeting incessant attacks on the House impeachment inquiry, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the panel would be happy to hear from him directly, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Trump “has every opportunity to present his case,” Pelosi said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "The president could come right before the [House Intelligence] committee and talk, speak all the truth that he wants — if he wants,” she said. Alternatively, "he could do it in writing."

Weekend impeachment highlights

Newly released testimony showed Timothy Morrison, a top aide to former national security adviser John Bolton, told the inquiry that Bolton met privately with Trump in August to try to persuade Trump to release $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine. Bolton told him the president wouldn't budge.

Morrison said Gordon Sondland — the EU ambassador enlisted to help Rudy Giuliani press Ukraine for investigations — claimed to be acting on Trump’s orders and in fact was regularly in touch with him.

Morrison saw Sondland confer with a top Ukrainian official and was told by the ambassador immediately afterward that he had given a message that the aid might be unfrozen if Ukraine's top prosecutor “would go to the mic" and announce investigations related to the company that employed Biden's son Hunter.

Mark Sandy, a longtime budget official, testified Saturday that the White House decision to freeze military aid to Ukraine was highly irregular. That undermined acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s assertion that the Ukraine aid was frozen in a routine manner that happened “all the time,” The Washington Post reported.

The witness whose account set off the strongest reaction from Trump was Jennifer Williams, a foreign policy adviser to Vice President Mike Pence. She listened in on Trump's July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky call and said it "struck me as unusual and inappropriate."

Trump tweeted, without evidence as usual, that the Pence aide was another of the "never Trumpers" participating in a "presidential attack." When asked for comment on Trump's tweet, Pence press secretary Katie Waldman told CNN: "Jennifer is a State Department employee."

Pompeo, downhill from Vesuvius

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has dug himself into a unique political trap with no clear way out, writes Newsday's Dan Janison

His patron, Trump, is in a perpetual state of volcanic rage at State Department professionals who testified credibly about the subversion of Ukraine policy for the president's interests.

When Trump and Giuliani targeted Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, Pompeo yielded to the pressure to remove her. But Pompeo replaced her with another respected professional diplomat, William Taylor, who has stood up against Giuliani and those abetting his schemes.

Does the president now suspect that the secretary who appointed Taylor also is a hidden mole for his enemies? Are these the last days of Pompeo? It's hard to see how he weathers this storm unscathed.

Impeachment: The week ahead 

This week's most-anticipated witness is Sondland, scheduled to appear Wednesday, who had more direct contact with Trump on Ukraine than any of the others who have answered the committee's subpoenas.

Sondland already has changed the story he gave in a closed-door deposition once, blaming a memory lapse for his original account that he never thought Ukraine faced a precondition of Trump-demanded investigations for military aid. Subsequent testimony from other witnesses described a Sondland-Trump call from a Kyiv restaurant with the president anxious for the investigations.

Morrison and Jennifer Williams are due to appear in open hearings Tuesday, along with Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the top Ukraine expert for the National Security Council, and Kurt D. Volker, the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine.

Additional witnesses will appear Wednesday and Thursday.

Trump's medical mystery

There are more questions than answers for Trump's unscheduled visit to Walter Reed National Medical Center on Saturday.

Press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the 73-year-old president wanted to take advantage of “a free weekend” in Washington to start portions of his annual checkup. She said he had “a quick exam and labs.”

She didn't say which part of the physical was performed or explain why it wasn't disclosed in advance like his previous checkups. Grisham told CNN that the White House will not release results until he completes all aspects of his annual physical.

Trump tweeted: "Everything very good (great!). Will complete next year."

'Health order' turned vaper-ware

Federal regulators had cleared Trump's widely-touted ban on certain flavored e-cigarettes, a move to protect kids from being lured into their use. But industry pressure arose, and Trump has caved. 

On Nov. 4, the night before a planned morning news conference, the president refused to sign the one-page “decision memo,” urged by his wife and daughter, saying he feared it would lead to job losses, The Washington Post quoted White House sources as saying.

What else is happening:

  • Stop-and-frisk policing still has a fan in Trump, who last year urged Chicago to adopt it.
  • Sondland kept several administration officials in the loop on the push to get Ukraine to launch the politically motivated investigations Trump sought, according to The Wall Street Journal. They included Mulvaney and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
  • Trump's magic MAGA wand has failed in another red state, this time in Louisiana, where Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards won reelection Saturday over a Trump-backed GOP challenger. Trump had pleaded with voters there after his choice in Kentucky lost: "You got to give me a big win, please. OK? OK?"
  • Why did Trump's interventions in Kentucky and Louisiana backfire? Because the moves energized a combination of African Americans and moderate whites, showing Trump's troubles in the suburbs extend even into conservative Southern states, The New York Times writes.
  • Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo this fall talked with some of his top political advisers about whether to consider a White House run if Biden faltered and dropped out, Newsday's Michael Gormley reports, citing two sources familiar with the discussions.
  • Even for Trump, there's a limit on the bad things that should happen to Biden. After North Korea's official news agency likened Biden to "rabid dogs" who "must be beaten to death with a stick," Trump tweeted to Kim Jong Un: "Joe Biden may be Sleepy and Very Slow, but he is not a 'rabid dog.' He is actually somewhat better than that."

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