Mother Jones Magazine

Newly Uncovered Emails Show Johnson & Johnson Knew Its Opioids Were Being Abused 18 Years Ago

Americans have become all too familiar with the nation’s snowballing opioid epidemic in recent years. Yet new court documents show that as early as 2001, executives at Janssen, the pharmaceutical branch of Johnson & Johnson, knew that their company’s opioid—the first fentanyl patch on the market, Duragesic—was being abused.

In February of that year, the New York Times published a major investigation into the abuse of OxyContin, the painkiller made by Purdue Pharma. In the weeks to follow, it appears that doctors questioned Janssen about if Duragesic could be abused as well.

When a Janssen employee circulated a draft of a letter for physicians about the drug’s abuse potential, Janssen’s Vice President of Analgesia Steve Zollo pushed back: “Please explain to me why we have to go through such painstaking detail around every single published report on Duragesic abuse?” he wrote. “Our problem is because of the increased scrutiny of Oxycontin abuse, physicians want to compare the relative risk Vs/ Duragesic.” He continued,

Let’s be clear about this issue — As the use of Duragesic continues to rise (which it will), so will drug abusers trying to find creative ways to extract fentanyl from the patch. That’s why it’s a scheduled drug. As our use goes up, so will published reports of abuse. If we want to report every case in the literature, this memo will be longer than the current 7 pages. If we feel compelled to provide information about any of our products to the degree that can be found on the Internet than Dave you don’t have enough people.

The emails were included in a collection of exhibits featured in federal litigation in which thousands of municipalities are suing opioid makers and distributors for fueling an overdose crisis. The case is expected to go to trial in October in Cleveland. (Last month, in a separate case, a judge in Oklahoma found J&J liable for helping fuel the crisis and ordered it to pay a $572 million fine.)

Also among the exhibits in the federal litigation was a 2003 report from consulting firm Sacoor Medical Group prepared for Janssen. It concluded: “From 2001 to 2002, the numbers show that fentanyl is on the rise and, unfortunately, abusers of the reservoir patch who experiment and in many cases overdose, sometimes die.”

J&J counsel Sabrina Strong told Mother Jones that the company “responsibly marketed and monitored our patch Duragesic, which data show was among the least abused, misused and diverted Schedule II opioids.” She added that any drug can be abused, and Janssen “took seriously its responsibility to monitor abuse, misuse, and diversion.”

The wave of opioid litigation has brought about new scrutiny of J&J, a company most Americans associate with household staples like soap and baby powder. Broadly speaking, the allegations against J&J fall into two categories. The first is that, like many other pharmaceutical companies, J&J underplayed the addictive effects of its own opioid products, Duragesic and Nucynta, and heavily marketed the drugs to high-volume prescribers.

The second: J&J subsidiaries were key players in the opioid supply chain, growing poppies in Tasmania and selling narcotics to leading drug companies, including OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma. By 2016, when J&J sold subsidiary Noramco to a private investment firm, Noramco was allegedly the nation’s top supplier of opioids, including oxycodone (found in OxyContin and Percocet), hydrocodone (found in Vicodin), codeine, and morphine. 

A 2015 presentation prepared for Noramco’s sale, also included in the exhibits, promotes the opportunity for prospective purchasers. Photos of poppies and factories dot the presentation, which explains that J&J formed Noramco in the late 1970s to secure supply of ingredients for Tylenol with Codeine, and it grew to become the “#1 supplier of Narcotic [active pharmaceutical ingredients] in the United States, the world’s largest market.” As of 2015, Noramco had an “excellent compliance record,” according to the presentation, and was focused on “expansion of synthetic controlled substances for ADD/ADHD.” At the end of one section of the presentation, the words “Thank You!” are superimposed on a photo of a field of poppies.

J&J has consistently argued that Noramco’s output was tightly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration, and that the company wasn’t responsible for the manufacturing or sales of opioids made by other companies using Noramco ingredients. Over the course of the Oklahoma trial, the company denied wrongdoing and said it had been made a “scapegoat.”

Judge Promoted by Trump Administration Threatened a 2-Year-Old With an Attack Dog

On March 30, 2016, in an immigration courtroom in Charlotte, North Carolina, a 2-year-old boy was doing what you might expect: He was making some noise. But Judge V. Stuart Couch—a former Marine known to have a temper—was growing frustrated. He pointed his finger at the Guatemalan child and demanded that he be quiet.

When the boy failed to obey his command, the threats began. “I have a very big dog in my office, and if you don’t be quiet, he will come out and bite you!” Couch yelled.

Couch continued, as a Spanish-language interpreter translated for the child, “Want me to go get the dog? If you don’t stop talking, I will bring the dog out. Do you want him to bite you?” Couch continued to yell at the boy throughout the hearing when he moved or made noise. 

Kathryn Coiner-Collier, the only independent observer in the courtroom that day, says her mouth was on the floor as Couch made his threats. She sometimes saw Department of Homeland Security dogs sweeping the court building, and it was completely plausible to her that dogs could have been there that day. Coiner-Collier, then a coordinator for a project run by the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy to assist immigrants who couldn’t afford attorneys, says she “ferociously scribbled everything” Couch was saying. Soon after, she wrote an affidavit containing the dialogue above, and Kenneth Schorr, the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s executive director, submitted a complaint to the Justice Department in April 2016.

“I was outraged,” Schorr says about learning of the threats. “I’ve been practicing law for over 40 years and I have never experienced judicial conduct this bad.” Coiner-Collier says Assistant Chief Immigration Judge Deepali Nadkarni, Couch’s superior, interviewed her multiples times about the affidavit and told her that it was accurate. Schorr says Nadkarni told him that everything in the affidavit was corroborated by the internal investigation. Nadkarni wrote to Schorr in June 2016, “Judge Couch acknowledged he did not handle the situation properly and assured me it will not occur again.”

V. Stuart Couch. Credit: National Security Archive

Schorr doesn’t think that Couch should have been able to remain on the bench after his threat to call in a dog on a child. In an unexpected way, he got his wish: In August, the Trump administration promoted Couch and five other judges to the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals, which often has the final say over whether immigrants are deported. All six judges reject asylum requests at a far higher rate than the national average; Couch granted just 7.9 percent of asylum claims between 2013 and 2018, compared to the national average of about 45 percent. (Before becoming an immigration judge, Couch served as a military prosecutor and attracted widespread attention for refusing to prosecute a Guantanamo detainee because he had been tortured.)

The boy’s mother declined to comment for this story, telling her attorney that she is still afraid of Couch. The Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees the country’s immigration courts, declined to answer questions about the incident. The interpreter who translated for Couch at the hearing declined to speak on the record about the incident.  

During the hearing, Coiner-Collier says Couch turned off the courtroom’s recording device as he threatened the boy. After turning it back on, he made a statement in which she believes he intentionally inflated the boy’s age to obscure the fact that he had threatened someone who was a few months shy of his third birthday, according to his passport. “I will have the record reflect that [the boy] is a 5-year-old respondent that has been very disruptive during this hearing,” Couch said, according to her recollection in the affidavit. “The court had tried to control the child behavior’s and has been unsuccessful…The court is using a strong voice and strong language with him in the absence of parental control.” (Coiner-Collier did not have access to the recording when she wrote the affidavit, but she says Nadkarni confirmed that there were multiple breaks in the recording when Couch went off the record.)

The boy was only 2, Coiner-Collier stated in the affidavit. “Anybody in their right mind looking at this child would know he is not 5, would know he is not 4,” Coiner-Collier recalls. “He was a little dude…He probably wasn’t even taller than the table.” It’s also unclear how many of Couch’s commands he was able to understand, since his first language was not Spanish but K’iche’, a Mayan language. 

After Couch made the statement about his strong language, he asked Coiner-Collier to remove the boy from the courtroom. When she asked the boy to come with her, he began to cry and grabbed onto his mother. Coiner-Collier picked him up and tried to carry him out, but he got free and ran back to the courtroom. She eventually took him to a nearby room, where he screamed and cried. A few minutes later, the hearing ended, and the boy’s mother, who was also crying, rejoined her son. Others did, too. “The women and children that day—I will never forget—left court hysterically crying, almost all of them,” Coiner-Collier says. (About her own reaction, she wrote in a text message to the mother’s attorney the next year,  “I have never lost my composure like I did that day…I was…red in the face sobbing along with her.)

When she went back to the courtroom to file paperwork, Couch told her, “I owe you an apology.” He said he knew it wasn’t her job to watch over children. Then he made a comment that suggested he had threatened other children. Coiner-Collier paraphrased what he said in her affidavit: “Usually when I threaten children with scary animals, it works. Not with this kid.” (Coiner-Collier and others who have appeared before Couch never witnessed him threaten another child.)

Coiner-Collier quickly told her supervisor and Schorr what had happened. Schorr asked her to draft an affidavit. Two weeks after the hearing, Schorr submitted the complaint to the Justice Department’s assistant chief immigration judge for conduct and professionalism. Schorr says Nadkarni, Couch’s superior, told him that the Justice Department would take appropriate action, but Nadkarni was not able to offer any specifics. Schorr still doesn’t know whether Couch was disciplined. (Coiner-Collier says Couch later told her that she put his job on the line by complaining.)

Nadkarni’s 2016 letter to Schorr.

In Schorr’s opinion, Couch should not have remained a judge, let alone been promoted. “In his own explanation of this, he said…that he had a practice of threatening children with physical violence in the courtroom and that it usually worked,” he says.

During the three years she worked for the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, Coiner-Collier says she probably spent more time in the Charlotte immigration courtrooms than anyone aside from courtroom staff. She remembers that Couch would sometimes go out of his way to explain things to the immigrants appearing before him. He could be fair and thorough, she says. But on other days, his temper took over. Noise was particularly annoying to him—a “bless you” after a sneeze could lead to a stare that she says would burn a hole in the back of your head. “He was scary as hell,” says one attorney who appeared before him. “Some days I thought he was gonna freakin’ have a heart attack on the stand because he was so worked up.”

After the 2016 hearing, Couch told Coiner-Collier that he would reassign the case of the 2-year-old and his mother, as well as other cases heard that day, to another judge. But in August 2017, the mother and son were back in court and scheduled to appear before Couch again. The mother’s attorney thought she seemed unusually nervous and asked what was up. She said Couch had yelled at her. The attorney had heard about the dog incident but didn’t know the names of the people involved, and she texted Coiner-Collier to see if her client’s son was the one who had been threatened. After learning that he was, the attorney wrote, “I cannot believe this.”

“I will never forget sitting in my office with that child after [C]ouch made the threats towards him,” Coiner-Collier replied, adding, “I was literally laying on the floor in fetal position with him and he was SCREAMING for his mother.” 

The boy’s mother, the attorney texted back, “doesn’t know the word ‘trauma.’ She just keeps saying he was crying. And you and her.”

After the exchange, the attorney asked Couch to reassign the case to another judge. He agreed to do so. The new judge denied them asylum. The mother appealed, and the case is pending before the appeals board that Couch is now a member of. 

NYT: Sharpiegate Nearly Got Some Folks Fired

Sharpiegate continue to get ever more contemptible:

The Secretary of Commerce threatened to fire top employees at NOAA on Friday after the agency’s Birmingham office contradicted President Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama, according to three people familiar with the discussion.

That threat led to an unusual, unsigned statement later that Friday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration disavowing the office’s own position that Alabama was not at risk….Officials at the White House and the Commerce Department declined to comment on administration involvement in the NOAA statement.

“Declined to comment”? Not even an outraged denial or a FAKE NEWS twitterstorm? In the Trump White House, that’s nearly as good as an official confirmation that it happened.

Lunchtime Photo

Remember that pink trumpet tree I posted a picture of a few months ago? A few days later I took a similar picture of a golden trumpet tree on the UC Irvine campus. I like the pink one better, but it’s always nice to have a little variety.

April 8, 2019 — Irvine, California

Jonathan Franzen Isn’t Quite Right, But He Has a Point

Jonathan Franzen has pissed off a lot of people by writing in the New Yorker that we should just admit the obvious: we’ve lost the war on climate change. He says that the conditions for success are simply unacceptable for most people:

The first condition is that every one of the world’s major polluting countries institute draconian conservation measures, shut down much of its energy and transportation infrastructure, and completely retool its economy….The actions taken by these countries must also be the right ones. Vast sums of government money must be spent without wasting it and without lining the wrong pockets….Finally, overwhelming numbers of human beings, including millions of government-hating Americans, need to accept high taxes and severe curtailment of their familiar life styles without revolting.

….Call me a pessimist or call me a humanist, but I don’t see human nature fundamentally changing anytime soon. I can run ten thousand scenarios through my model, and in not one of them do I see the two-degree target being met.

Franzen goes overboard in his piece, but that’s a time-honored way of getting attention. And he does have a point. Here is worldwide electricity capacity since 1990, when climate change first became a serious topic of conversation:

The good news is that use of renewable energy has increased, from 19 percent of total capacity to 22 percent. That’s genuine progress, and the use of solar and wind continues to accelerate.

The bad news is that this doesn’t even make up for the loss of nuclear power over the same period, let alone cut our dependence on fossil fuels. All told, our reliance on fossil fuels has increased from 62 percent to 65 percent. Here are the results:

We haven’t even managed to stabilize carbon emissions, let alone reduce them. Even a huge global recession made only a tiny dent.

Franzen’s prescription is wrong: we shouldn’t give up hope. Success is still possible, even if it’s hardly certain. However, his assessment of human nature is something to be taken seriously and it should illuminate the way we approach climate change. Working with human nature is far more likely to produce results than fighting it, and that means finding new ways to make green energy cheap and plentiful instead of fruitlessly pleading with people to use less of it.

In the meantime, it makes a lot of sense to also put a lot of work into growing our use of wind and solar, two technologies we have already. It’s not enough, but it will reduce the amount we have to do when we finally do come up with real solutions. That’s well worth it.

Remember the Doctor Who Did Abortions on a Boat? Now She’s Suing the Federal Government.

Rebecca Gomperts, the Dutch doctor who mails abortion pills to women in the United States, is suing the Food and Drug Administration in an attempt to secure the future of her medication distribution service.

The lawsuit filed Monday accuses federal officials of seizing prescription medicine and blocking the transfer of funds from patients to her organization, Aid Access, NPR reports. Gomperts’ attorney, Richard Hearn, said that he fears the United States will prosecute patients whose pills have been seized by the government. Federal officials told NPR that the FDA “generally does not take enforcement action against individuals” who import illegal drugs for personal use. According to Hearn, the lawsuit aims to stop the alleged seizure of the drugs and to protect Gomperts and her patients from being accused by the government of illegally importing and distributing abortion drugs. 

As Mother Jones reported in May, Gomperts mails the abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol to women who would have trouble gaining access to abortion services otherwise. This includes women in parts of the United States where abortion is highly restricted. Gomperts received a warning letter from the FDA in March saying that Aid Access violates federal law by selling “misbranded and unapproved new drugs,” but she did not stop providing these services.

Two days after the FDA letter was sent, 120 members of Congress wrote to FDA Commissioner Norman Sharpless thanking him for taking action. Gomperts briefly paused operations. But on Thursday, a day after Alabama became the first state to pass a near-total abortion ban and about a week following Georgia’s “fetal heartbeat” ban, her lawyer, Richard Hearn, responded to the FDA, saying that its attempt to stop Gomperts “violates the constitutional rights of Dr. Gomperts’ patients in the U.S.” to receive abortion care. 

The FDA’s letter, though not a lawsuit, signals what could be a growing trend: As states restrict access to in-clinic abortions, alternative suppliers of abortion drugs are cropping up and, in turn, being targeted. Last June, FDA agents raided the home of a New York City woman who had sent abortion medications to 2,000 women across the country starting in 2016 (no charges appear to have been filed). But unlike in the pre–Roe v. Wade era, when women sought out doctors or other practitioners to end pregnancies, the abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol, which are safe and, thanks to the internet, abundant, make terminating without complications relatively easy. Not only that: Medication abortions are indistinguishable from miscarriages, so that means they are also discrete. Whether law enforcement and the FDA can stop the flow of pills, and whether they have jurisdiction to do so, remains to be seen.

USA Still #1 in Opioid Use

Keith Humphreys reports that although opioid prescribing is down in the US, it’s still enormously higher than any other country in the world. However, taking opioids away from existing users can harm them, so the best way to reduce the use of opioids is to stop prescribing them in the first place:

U.S. dentists, for example, do not need to continue initiating prescribed opioids after dental procedures at 70 times the rate of English dentists. Nor should one in eight Americans seeking treatment for a sprained ankle continue being started on opioids.

What? I know that different people have different tolerances for pain, but opioids for a sprained ankle? That’s as ridiculous as it sounds, isn’t it? Speaking from frequent experience, the pain just isn’t that bad. Why would opioids ever be prescribed?

Judge Blocks Trump’s Ban on Asylum at the Southern Border

Blocked, partially unblocked, and now blocked again: The Trump administration’s effort to end asylum at the southern border has once again been struck down by a federal judge, the latest twist in an ongoing legal battle.

On Monday, California district court judge Jon Tigar reinstated a nationwide order blocking President Donald Trump’s effective ban on asylum at the border. The ban, enacted by the administration in July, made people who travel through a third country on their way to the United States ineligible for asylum, forcing them to apply instead in Mexico or elsewhere on their route. The US government makes it impossible for many asylum seekers to get visas to fly directly to the United States, and the ban would virtually end asylum for people whose only option is to travel overland through Mexico and other Latin American countries.

One week after the ban went into effect, Tigar blocked it with a nationwide injunction after finding that the Trump administration was effectively “shortcutting the law,” since federal law gives people the right to seek asylum in the United States regardless of whether they’ve set foot in another country. In August, the progressive Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Tigar’s injunction, but only in the states represented by the Ninth Circuit. As a result, border crossers were eligible for asylum in California and Arizona, but ineligible in Texas and New Mexico.

The Ninth Circuit signaled in its August decision that Tigar could reinstate a nationwide ban if there was additional evidence for why it was necessary. The American Civil Liberties Union made the case for a new nationwide ban before Tigar in court on Thursday. 

The Trump administration issued a similar asylum ban in November 2018. Tigar quickly blocked it, deciding that the policy “irreconcilably conflicts” with immigration law. Tigar’s 2018 decision was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote. Trump responded with a more sweeping asylum ban in July, setting off another court battle. 

The government asked the Supreme Court last month to rule quickly on whether the new asylum ban can go into effect across the country. The request is still pending. 

Read Tigar’s decision below:

Trump: I Have Nothing to Do With All These Government Officials Staying at My Resorts

Amid two separate investigations into possible malfeasance involving his international resort properties, President Donald Trump on Monday professed complete innocence regarding the new probes, which have renewed accusations that the president is enriching himself at taxpayers’ expense.

“NOTHING TO DO WITH ME,” he tweeted about military personnel staying at his Turnberry resort in Scotland earlier this year while refueling at a nearby airport. Air Force leaders have opened an international review into the process of how it chooses layover accommodations following the revelation of the Turnberry stays.

I know nothing about an Air Force plane landing at an airport (which I do not own and have nothing to do with) near Turnberry Resort (which I do own) in Scotland, and filling up with fuel, with the crew staying overnight at Turnberry (they have good taste!). NOTHING TO DO WITH ME

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 9, 2019

Ten minutes later, Trump returned to Twitter to claim that he was not involved in Vice President Mike Pence’s recent decision to stay at the Trump International in Doonbeg, Ireland, even though Pence’s meetings with Irish leaders took place in Dublin, nearly 200 miles away. When reporters questioned Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, on whether Trump had pressured the vice president into staying at the property, Short initially said that the president had only mentioned it as a “suggestion.” “I don’t think it was a request, like a command,” he said. 

Later, Pence contradicted that narrative, pointing to his ancestral roots in the Doonbeg area as justification for staying hours away from his official meetings.

House Democrats have since announced an investigation into Pence’s Doonbeg stay.

I had nothing to do with the decision of our great @VP Mike Pence to stay overnight at one of the Trump owned resorts in Doonbeg, Ireland. Mike’s family has lived in Doonbeg for many years, and he thought that during his very busy European visit, he would stop and see his family!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 9, 2019

The Great Kitchen Remodel Begins Today

Today our kitchen remodel finally starts. Francesco Marciuliano captures my mood of giddy optimism:

And so my kitchen remodeling continues at its swift pace…#mondaythoughts #MondayMotivaton

— FrancescoMarciuliano (@fmarciuliano) September 9, 2019

Of course, by “starts” I mean that people with sledgehammers are going to come in and destroy everything in their path. The actual start, as in constructing a replacement for everything that’s been destroyed, will begin someday. I shall keep you apprised.

As it turns out, I’m going to miss the demo since I’ll be lounging away the morning in the comfy confines of the Kaiser Permanente infusion center. However, I have already transferred the nerve center of this blog upstairs, so my loyal readership will notice no disruption in service. I bought a new desk from Ikea and everything:

Trump Lashes Out at John Legend, Chrissy Teigen After Watching TV

In four furious tweets late Sunday, President Donald Trump attacked John Legend for failing to give him credit for the passage of the First Step Act during an appearance on an NBC town hall focusing on criminal justice reform. While knocking Legend, Trump also lashed out Legend’s wife, the model and frequent Trump critic, Chrissy Teigen.

“Guys like boring musician @johnlegend, and his filthy-mouthed wife, are talking now about how great it is—but I didn’t see them around when we needed help getting it passed,” Trump complained before taking aim at anchor Lester Holt. “Doesn’t even bring up the subject of President Trump or the Republicans when talking about the importance or passage of Criminal Justice Reform.”

While Trump has spent a good deal boasting about the First Step Act—the bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation he signed into law in December—the president’s own budget proposals have put into question how much he truly cares about the law, both its implementation and funding. As my colleague Samantha Michaels explained in March:

For supporters of prison reform, it’s an alarming signal that his administration isn’t serious about fully implementing a law that could improve life for thousands of inmates and help many of them reduce their sentences. In the past, lawmakers have rejected Trump’s budget proposals, and they may decide to allocate more money to fund the First Step Act this year. But their track record isn’t great either: For the 2019 fiscal year, they didn’t budget any funds for the new law.

Trump’s fury on Sunday is further evidence that the president likely prioritizes the appearance of progress over, well, actual progress.

“Imagine being president of a whole country and spending your Sunday night hate-watching MSNBC hoping somebody—ANYBODY—will praise you,” Legend tweeted in response to the president’s attack. “Melania, please praise this man. He needs you.”

Ah yes, Melania is otherwise occupied. My apologies, @realDonaldTrump

— John Legend (@johnlegend) September 9, 2019

Teigen responded with her trademark caustic humor: 

lol what a pussy ass bitch. tagged everyone but me. an honor, mister president.

— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) September 9, 2019



Democrats Are Afraid to Say It: Climate Change Also Means Retreat

This story was originally published by Wired and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

“Retreat, hell!” Major General Oliver Prince Smith once said during the Korean War. “We’re not retreating, we’re just advancing in a different direction.”

Retreat is not a concept Americans take lightly, whether in wartime or during CNN’s climate town hall Wednesday night. There the topic was managed retreat or strategic retreat, a deliberate pulling back from coastal areas. It means giving up some buildings and infrastructure to the rising sea while moving others. It’s also a strategy that scientists frequently turn to when debating how waterfront cities and towns will adapt to climate change.

But when moderators and audience members asked the Democratic hopefuls whether they’d relocate people away from coastal areas prone to flooding, the candidates called it virtually everything other than retreat. To wit (emphasis added by me):

Andrew Yang: “We would 100 percent make funds available to communities around the country for adaptation and resilience.”

Amy Klobuchar: “I’ve been through this mitigation issue for flooding in my own state … sometimes we find a way to move their homes, to move them off flooding areas that keep consistently flooding, because otherwise they’re paying too much money.”

Joe Biden: “We have to be in a position where we build back, we don’t build back to normal, we build back to what is necessary. So there’s a whole range of things going on now, in terms of—anyway I’m taking too long, sorry.” (Perhaps he was close to uttering “retreat”? Weird way to trail off in a town hall, regardless.)

Bernie Sanders: “I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to rebuild that house so it is knocked down again in the next storm.”

Beto O’Rourke: “Let’s as Americans invest in the people of Houston and the southeast of America and every community that’s on the front lines of climate change to rebuild where we can and to move where we must.”

Retreat? No thank you. This is America—we’ll rebuild in coastal areas that keep flooding rather than use a word that signals weakness. Even as sea levels creep higher, and as climate change supercharges hurricanes, we rebuild. (Following Harvey’s ravaging of Houston, some homeowners have opted to raise their domiciles, the average cost being between $100,000 and $300,000.) Even as we stand to lose 300,000 homes worth $120 billion by 2045, we rebuild. We’re not even advancing in a different direction, as the major general once put it. Hell, even Californians, who’ve been carrying the nation’s environmental flag for decades, refuse to give up coastal land. Retreat is not an option, especially not if you’re a politician.

The semantics are quite different in Canada, which is also facing a growing threat from intense floods. But the government and insurance companies are calling the solution what it is. “The actual term is strategic retreat,” says Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo in Canada. “I get it, that the various Democratic candidates are trying to avoid usage of these terms. People see it as capitulation: In other words, you’re kind of just giving in to climate change.”

Which, of course, it’s not. If a volcano opened up in your backyard, would you keep rebuilding after each lava flow? The same thing goes with climate change: Seas will continue to rise, and homes too close to the shore will continue to flood. The government has to step in to support those who are displaced, just as the Canadian government is beginning to pay people to abandon their homes and retreat.

To the Democrats’ credit, they’re talking about the right issue. But there’s danger in relying only on euphemisms, because “retreat” and “retreat” alone conveys the urgency of the threat. You wouldn’t order troops to merely “move where we must” while a massive, unstoppable army barrels down upon them. But while politicians work up the courage to utter that dreaded seven-letter word, they can take a page from Major General Smith and urge oceanfront communities to start advancing in another direction—inland and uphill.

The Threat of a Post-Roe America Is Already Changing How Women Get Abortions

When lawmakers in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Kentucky passed legislation this year effectively ending all or most abortions in their states, it seemed to confirm what many Americans, pro-choice and anti-abortion alike, have long anticipated: The post-Roe era is coming. What would that new landscape look like? For those who protested the new laws with red cloaks and coat hangers, it’s a nightmarish mashup of the dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale and the bad old days of back-alley abortions. Meanwhile, the president of Americans United for Life scoffs at such “ominous warnings,” insisting that “women can, and will, flourish in a society that does not constitutionalize abortion on demand.”

This moment has been a long time coming, the result of a steadily building backlash against choice. Roe v. Wade was decided on January 22, 1973; the effort to undo it began soon after with a proposed constitutional amendment declaring the fetus a person. Since then, states have enacted more than 1,200 restrictions on abortion—more than a third of them since 2010—casting them as measures to protect women’s health, parental rights, or religious freedom. President Donald Trump’s appointments to the Supreme Court have provided an opening for anti-choice activists to solidify these gains and strike directly at Roe through a favorable ruling on an anti-abortion statute.

What all this means is we don’t have to do much speculating about what a post-Roe world would look like, because for millions of women, the right to end a pregnancy has already been rendered meaningless. As of 2014, about 40 percent of American women of reproductive age live in counties without an abortion provider; today, 11 million live more than an hour away from the nearest facility. Missouri’s last clinic is still battling a health department dispute that would have made it the first state in almost 50 years without a single abortion clinic; five other states have only one left.

Guttmacher Institute Centers for Disease Control

Yet as the clinic infrastructure has eroded, a new, if somewhat patchy, one is being built to fill the gap. Nonprofit groups known as abortion funds, like the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, directly support women who seek abortions but need assistance with the cost, the distance, and the stress of walking past anti-abortion pickets. The funds were created decades ago in response to restrictions on clinic access—most notably the 1976 Hyde Amendment, which banned Medicaid coverage of abortion—and have had years to get organized. “Abortion funds are ready,” Renee Bracey Sherman, senior public affairs manager at the National Network of Abortion Funds, an association of more than 70 groups across the country, said at a recent panel on the post-Roe landscape.

A flourishing world of underground abortion has also emerged, allowing women to bypass the clinic altogether. Some women are teaching each other at-home procedures. Many more are turning to the internet, where a handful of suppliers have jumped into the market to send abortion pills straight to women’s homes. The pills, misoprostol and mifepristone, are a highly effective and safe combination that clinics have prescribed for early abortions for almost two decades. Last year, a Dutch physician known for performing abortions on a ship in international waters mailed nearly 2,600 medication abortion kits to women in the United States. Researchers and legal experts keeping an eye on the spread of self-induced abortion say these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg.

Abortion by mail is the future. With or without an unfavorable Supreme Court ruling, the black market is here to stay. International online pill providers are difficult targets for law enforcement. And the demand for convenient, safe, and private abortion is unlikely to wane, whether or not in-clinic abortion gets harder to come by. “The train has left the station with medication abortion,” says Jill Adams, executive director of If/When/How, a reproductive justice legal advocacy group. “There’s no going back.”

Of course, it’s not obvious what the high court’s conservative majority will do when it encounters one of the new anti-abortion laws designed to trigger a constitutional review. Perhaps most likely, as happened in 1992, when abortion rights advocates felt certain the court would deal abortion rights a death blow, the justices will diminish Roe’s standing without altogether undoing it. As some legal scholars have speculated, Chief Justice John Roberts, now considered the crucial swing vote in such a case, may side with precedent to preserve his legacy. But there’s always the possibility that, as Trump promised his new justices would do, the court will completely overturn Roe.

Guttmacher Institute Guttmacher Institute

Whatever happens, women will once again be the collateral damage. The lawmakers who backed Alabama’s abortion ban made that clear: The only reproductive domain they seek to regulate is a woman’s uterus. While discussing whether his bill would apply to embryos discarded during in vitro fertilization, state Sen. Clyde Chambliss said it would not, because “the egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman.” On the decision to omit exceptions for rape from the bill’s language, Chambliss said, “When God creates the miracle of life inside a woman’s womb, it is not our place as human beings to extinguish that life.” At the time, Alabama was one of two states that had no law providing for the termination of rapists’ parental rights over children conceived through sexual assault.

As long as abortion opponents see Trump and the Supreme Court as their biggest opportunity in a generation, the access gap will only widen. States in the South and Midwest will continue to make abortions all but impossible, and others, following the lead of places like Illinois, New York, and California, will become sanctuaries. These divides will reinforce existing inequalities in who can end their pregnancies: If you have the means to travel out of state, you won’t need to worry; if you don’t, you will have to navigate the network of abortion funds or go underground. The only silver lining of the slow-burning attack on abortion is that providers and advocates have had years to prepare their defenses. “We were built for this moment,” Sherman, of the National Network of Abortion Funds, says. “That doesn’t mean we aren’t scared shitless.”

This story is part of our post-Roe issue, in which we examine an America without the rights established in Roe v. Wade by looking at areas where that is already a reality. Keep checking back for more of these stories.

Trump’s Ego Killed Taliban Talks

Zalmay Khalilzad, our chief negotiator in Afghanistan, reached a final agreement with the Taliban a week ago. The New York Times tells the story of what happened next:

Leaders of both teams initialed their copies and handed them to their Qatari hosts.

Before the end of the meeting, Mr. Khalilzad brought up the idea of a Taliban trip to Washington. Taliban leaders said they accepted the idea — as long as the visit came after the deal was announced.

That would become a fundamental dividing point contributing to the collapse of the talks. Mr. Trump did not want the Camp David meeting to be a celebration of the deal; after staying out of the details of what has been a delicate effort in a complicated region, Mr. Trump wanted to be the dealmaker who would put the final parts together himself, or at least be perceived to be.

Trump couldn’t accept a limited but workable deal that had been negotiated by someone else. So without any prep, he insisted on inviting both Taliban leaders and the president of Afghanistan to Camp David to negotiate a bigger, more expansive deal that he could triumphantly announce himself. Instead, everything fell apart. President Deals, yet again, had made any deal impossible.

Mark Sanford Announces Long-Shot Primary Challenge to Trump

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford on Sunday announced his bid to challenge President Donald Trump in the 2020 Republican primary, adding his name to a small group of long-shot campaigns aimed at unseating the president.

In a string of tweets detailing his candidacy, Sanford focused heavily on fiscal responsibility, or the lack thereof, in Washington. “I am compelled to enter the Presidential Primary as a Republican for several reasons—the most important of which is to further and foster a national debate on our nation’s debt, deficits and spending,” he wrote.

Sanford continued to hit at the familiar and once-favorite Republican talking point on the Sunday morning shows. “The numbers are astounding,” he said on Fox News. “I’d say the epicenter of where I’m coming from is we’ve got to have a national conversation—and a Republican conversation—on where we’re going on debt and deficits.”

It remains to be seen how effective Sanford’s approach will be, as Republicans have long turned a blind eye to the ballooning national debt under Trump’s presidency. The announcement comes days after Republicans in four states, including South Carolina, moved to cancel their primaries and caucuses in order to protect Trump.

Sanford joins former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld and former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) to announce they’re challenging Trump. (Walsh also made headlines on Sunday by announcing that George Conway, the conservative lawyer and husband to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, would be serving as his informal campaign adviser.) Sanford’s entry to the primary is likely to prompt Trump to again point to Sanford’s 2009 scandal in which he lied about hiking on the Appalachian Trail as a cover for having an affair with an Argentinian journalist.

On Sunday, the Trump campaign had only one word in response to Sanford’s announcement: “Irrelevant.” 

Hurricane Dorian Survivors Feel Abandoned

This story was originally published by The Guardian. It appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The silence along the Grand Bahama highway, the only major road on the island, is foreboding, punctuated only by the occasional truck driving east. The once dense forest on either side of the road has turned to bare branches. Houses and government buildings have been reduced to their concrete foundations. Cars and small jet planes have been left crumpled wreckages by 185 mph winds. Boats washed inland by the storm surge are planted among foliage.

The sheer brutality of Hurricane Dorian was on display to the few people travelling back towards the worst-hit areas on Grand Bahama, a thin strip of land that is home to 50,000 people.

As a lone pick-up truck slowed to navigate the smashed tarmac ahead, Shenelle Kemp called from the back: “We have no food. No water. We’re abandoned here.”

Kemp, 45, was heading back to her home town of High Rock, in the island’s remote centre, an area mostly turned to rubble that had only been fully accessible since Thursday after Dorian ravaged Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands in the north of the Bahamas archipelago, which is home to about 70,000 people.

As aid agencies struggled to reach the parts of the Bahamas most severely affected by the category 5 hurricane, some, like Kemp, had tried to take matters into their own hands. She was heading back to salvage what she could from a home and small business she knew had been destroyed.

The true scale of Dorian’s destruction here is still unfolding.

On Friday evening, the Bahamian prime minister, Hubert Minnis, updated the death toll to 43 but acknowledged that the number was “expected to increase significantly”.

“This is one of the stark realities we are facing in our darkest hour. The loss of life we are experiencing is catastrophic and devastating.”

“This is one of the stark realities we are facing in our darkest hour,” Minnis said in a statement. “The loss of life we are experiencing is catastrophic and devastating. The grief we will bear as a country begins with the families who have lost loved ones. We will meet them in this time of sorrow with open arms and walk by their sides every step of the way.”

On Abaco Island, reports indicated numerous uncollected bodies had been obscured by piles of detritus, the creeping stench alerting authorities to their location. On Grand Bahama residents told The Guardian that dozens of people remained missing, some were assumed to have been swept away by the storm.

Ishmael Laing, a 69-year-old engineer living on the island’s centre, was one of those lucky not to have his home destroyed. It sits on higher ground but was still inundated with storm water that rose to about 8 feet inside.

He watched as the winds, sometimes gusting at 220 mph, ripped off the roofs of his neighbours’ home “like they were feathers”.

And then, as the storm surge rapidly increased, he saw it “roll over” the home of a lifelong friend, Roswell, from across the street.

“He is no more. They haven’t found the body, but there was no way to survive that,” he said. “My nephew, too. He died. They found him yesterday. He got carried away with the flood. His whole building was gone.”

In the city of Freeport on Grand Bahama on Friday, hundreds lined up to try to leave the island as the Bahamian government vowed to evacuate every citizen who wanted to go. But there simply was not enough space on private boats to take everyone. There were similar, more severe scenes on Abaco Island where thousands were awaiting evacuation.

“It’s going to get crazy soon,” Serge Simon, a 39-year-old ice truck driver, told the Associated Press as he waited with his wife and two sons, five months old and four. “There’s no food, no water. There are bodies in the water. People are going to start getting sick.”

Later in the day the airport in Freeport, previously littered with debris, opened once more, meaning more aid was likely to flow into the island.

But around the same time, an international petroleum company announced that an oil terminal on the island had sustained severe damage during the storm, leading to a serious spill. The Norwegian company, Equinor, said it had not determined how much oil had leaked from its 6.75m gallon crude oil tanks, but there were no indications yet it had made it to the sea.

Phillip Smith, the executive director of the Bahamas Feeding Network, fronted efforts to deliver 20,000 meals to those most in need in Freeport. The aid had been provided by the cruise line giant Royal Caribbean earlier in the day. At present, he said, no aid had been provided directly by the government of the Bahamas, although assistance was being given by its National Emergency Management Agency (Nema).

Smith was aware of the challenges he faced in getting to the more remote parts of the island, cut off for days due to treacherous weather and impassable roads.

“Just going into the communities here is tough. Seeing kids who haven’t had a drink of water in quite a while, it’s a confronting thing,” he said.

Trump’s Campaign Manager Salivates Over Potential Trump Family “Dynasty”

While President Donald Trump occasionally drops dictatorial hints that he’ll serve more than a mere two terms, his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, appears determined to extend that fantasy to the whole family.

Consider Parscale’s performance on Saturday during a speech before a group of California Republican delegates attending a convention in Indian Wells. After the predictable talk about the long road to 2020, Parscale began salivating at the prospect of a Trump family “dynasty that will last for decades.” A moment from that fever dream, from the Associated Press:

“The Trumps will be a dynasty that will last for decades, propelling the Republican Party into a new party,” he said. “One that will adapt to changing cultures. One must continue to adapt while keeping the conservative values that we believe in.”

Parscale later declined to elaborate on his prediction of a coming Trump “dynasty,” or whether the president’s children could become candidates for public office.

He told reporters after the speech, “I just think they are a dynasty. I think they are all amazing people with…amazing capabilities.”

During the same event, a more pragmatic version of the campaign manager did acknowledge that the president was deeply unpopular in the state. “This is not a swing state,” he said, to apparent laughter.

Trump has yet to comment on the “dynasty” prediction. But it’s likely that he’ll welcome the remarks—as long as they don’t involve that other daughter.

Trump Cancels a Secret Meeting With the Taliban Days Before 9/11 Anniversary

President Donald Trump on Saturday claimed that he had canceled a secret meeting with Taliban and Afghan leaders that had been scheduled for the next day at Camp David, blaming last week’s Taliban car bombing that killed 12 people, including a US service member, for the abrupt move.

Citing the attack, Trump also said that he was “calling off” peace negotiations altogether. The talks, aimed at ending America’s longest war, had been going on for nearly a year. Trump vowed on the campaign trail to stop “endless wars” in Afghanistan and Syria.

The bombshell revelation—made in three tweets—that the meeting had even been planned was met with both alarm and disbelief. “You brought the Taliban to the United States the week of September 11?” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) tweeted, one of many to point to the troubling timing of the now-canceled meeting.

Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday. They were coming to the United States tonight. Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 7, 2019

….only made it worse! If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway. How many more decades are they willing to fight?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 7, 2019

Trump’s stated justification for canceling the clandestine meeting was also questioned. According to officials who spoke to the New York Times, the meeting had been scrapped after it had become increasingly clear that the Taliban was unwilling to bend to US commitments of the deal. 

Julián Castro on President Trump saying he called off Afghan peace talks with the Taliban: “It's another bizarre episode. It's more of his erratic behavior that people are tired of and that's one of the reasons I believe that he's going to lose in 2020” #CNNSOTU

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) September 8, 2019

“Why bring people like that to Camp David?” CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday. He continued, “I can’t help but think that if a Democratic president had talked about having the Taliban come to Camp David to negotiate a peace process that was not already a done deal, that you as a congressman, as a soldier, as a veteran, as a West Point graduate, that you would be rather upset.” 

“Jake, you’re just wrong about that,” Pompeo responded. “I’ve been fully supportive of this effort…I think the timing is just right. We’ve made enormous progress.”

Despite Pompeo’s confidence, few appeared convinced Sunday morning. “I question the whole idea of holding the meeting on the anniversary of 9/11,” Chris Wallace said during a segment with Karl Rove, as the two discussed Trump’s decision. “All respect to Karl, he talked about this deal was going to bring peace, but it wasn’t going to bring peace.”

Uh Oh, We May Be Overestimating How Much Trees Will Help Fight Climate Change?

This story was originally published by Undark. It appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Bob Marra navigated his way to the back of a dusty barn in Hamden, Connecticut, belonging to the state’s Agricultural Experiment Station. There, past piles of empty beehives, on a wall of metal shelves, were stacks of wooden disks—all that remains of 39 trees taken down in 2014 from Great Mountain Forest in the northwest corner of the state.

These cross-sections of tree trunks, known as stem disks—or more informally as cookies—are telling a potentially worrisome tale about the ability of forests to be critical hedges against accelerating climate change. As anyone following the fires burning in the Amazon rainforest knows by now, trees play an important role in helping to offset global warming by storing carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide—a major contributor to rising temperatures—in their wood, leaves, and roots. The worldwide level of CO2 is currently averaging more than 400 parts per million —the highest amount by far in the last 800,000 years.

But Marra, a forest pathologist at the Experiment Station with a Ph.D. in plant pathology from Cornell University, has documented from studying his fallen trees that internal decay has the capacity to significantly reduce the amount of carbon stored within.

His research, published in Environmental Research Letters late last year and funded by the National Science Foundation, focused on a technique to see inside trees—a kind of scan known as tomography (the “T” in CAT scan.) This particular tomography was developed for use by arborists to detect decay in urban and suburban trees, mainly for safety purposes. Marra, however, may be the first to deploy it for measuring carbon content and loss associated with internal decay. Where there is decay there is less carbon, he explains, and where there is a cavity, there is no carbon at all.

“What we’re suggesting is that internal decay in trees has just not been properly accounted for,” says Marra.

While the first round of his research was a proof of concept that necessitated the destruction of 39 trees to show that tomography is accurate, his ultimate goal is a nondestructive technique to enable better assessments of carbon sequestration than those done annually by the US Forest Service. Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, ratified in 1994, governments are required to report annual estimates of carbon holdings in all their managed lands. The most recent Forest Service figures show that US forests offset about 14 percent of the nation’s carbon emissions each year.

“What we’re suggesting is that internal decay in trees has just not been properly accounted for.”

The Forest Service estimates that carbon makes up 48 to 50 percent of a tree’s biomass, so ones with decay will be less dense and therefore hold less carbon. But Marra contends that the visual signs monitored by the Forest Service, such as canopy and tree size, along with conspicuous problems such as lesions or cankers, don’t accurately reflect internal decay—a tree that looks healthy may have decay and one that appears problematic may be fine inside.

In addition, he says, foresters typically use a mallet to hammer a tree to register a sound that might indicate it’s hollow. “You know that there may be a hollow, but you don’t know how big the hollow is,” Marra says. As a result, he believes the government’s baseline data used to estimate carbon storage are not accurate.

“There are a lot of ways to improve our estimates of carbon being stored above ground in forests, and this decay component could certainly prove to be important,” says Andrew Reinmann, an ecologist and biogeochemist with the City University of New York’s Advanced Science Research Center. But, he added, “We haven’t really had the technology to explore this before—it’s still a little bit of an unknown.”

Marra used a two-stage system for his research: sonic tomography, which sends sound waves through the tree, followed by electrical resistance tomography, which transmits an electric current. Both processes are necessary to fine-tune each other’s readings.

The system, which costs about $25,000 and fits in a backpack, is cheap and small by scientific equipment standards. Each reading takes no more than a few minutes and computerized visual renderings of the results appear instantly.

Marra experimented with three northern hardwoods—sugar maple, yellow birch, and American beech—and included more than two dozen of each, along with some control trees with no decay. The researchers analyzed the lower bole—the first two meters or so—of each tree, which is the oldest part and closest to the soil, where most decay-causing fungi would come from.

A dozen or so nails were tapped in a circle around the trunk and connected by cables to the tomograph; a sonic hammer then activated the system to get sound-wave measurements.

For the electric resistance tomography, a second set of nails was hammered between the first, and electrodes—plus and minus—were attached to each.

The various nail areas were painted in different colors to enable the computer renderings to be aligned later with photographs of the cookies after the trees were cut down.

The cookies, about 4 inches thick and which Marra called “the truth,” were only taken from where the measurements were made—the areas with the paint markings.

He analyzed 105 cookies from the 39 trees taken down. In the 11 cases where tomography found no decay, the cookies revealed only one small cavity. In the 32 cases where incipient, or early, decay was detected, the cookies showed one additional cavity. The cookies confirmed the tomography results in 36 cases where active decay was found, though eight small cavities were also detected. Tomography correctly identified cavities in the remaining 26 cookies, meaning that it missed a total of 10 cavities among the 105 cookies.

“One thing to sort of mitigate against this failure, if you want to call it that—these were very small cavities,” Marra says of the ones the tomography missed. “So they would have very little impact on a carbon budget.”

Then came the time-consuming process of measuring the actual amount of carbon in each tree. After air-drying the cookies for a year, the wood from 500 drilled holes was sent to a gas chromatography lab at the University of Massachusetts to determine the carbon levels.

The tomography and lab results were then combined to calculate how much carbon was stored in the lower boles and to contrast that with the levels if the trees had been solid wood. Those calculations took until 2017 to complete.

“You’re looking at anywhere from a 19 percent to a 34 percent carbon loss” for an actively decaying tree among those studied, Marra says. “But any place there’s a cavity you’ve lost all of your carbon.”

The upshot of his five years of research, says Marra, is that accurate tomographic readings are possible in just a few minutes. “And what our tomography tells us is the carbon content,” he says.

At the same time, Marra is aware that tomography is not a practical substitute for the Forest Service’s carbon estimate system—which itself is a clunky and labor-intensive slog. But it could provide a valuable way to augment those estimates.

“Those are very, very impressive results,” says Kevin Griffin, a tree physiologist at Columbia University and its Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “They obviously have obtained a lot of precision in the techniques.”

“The results are important,” he adds, “but whether internal tree decay is the single most burning question? Probably not. There’s probably bigger fish to fry before we get there.”

Among them, he says are forest growth rates and overall tree health and age, as well as the impact of harvesting and other kinds of losses, including disease.

A tree’s architecture and height could also play large roles in carbon sequestration, says Reinmann of the City University of New York’s Advanced Science Research Center, as could the makeup of the forest landscape. His own research, for instance, found trees grow faster and have more biomass at the edge of fragmented forest.

“I think they’re making a good point that we’re probably over-estimating” carbon storage levels, says Aaron Weiskittel, director of the University of Maine’s Center for Research on Sustainable Forests.

Even so, Weiskittel and others—including Marra—say the research needs to be scaled up to many more tree types and full forests. For his part, Marra would like to sample forests randomly with many more trees and controlling for factors including species, age, and soil characteristics.

The goal, he says, is to develop a methodology for generating data to provide better carbon estimates for more than three tree types in one small part of the country.

“We need to use tomography to refine models so we’re more accurately assessing the role that forests are playing as sequesterers or climate change mitigators,” Marra says. “We don’t want to be over-estimating the roles that they play.”

Texas Lieutenant Governor Says He’ll Buck the NRA on Expanded Background Checks

In the immediate aftermath of the mass shooting in El Paso in early August, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick signaled he would toe the conservative line and blame everything but the gun the killer carried.

“We’ve always had guns, always had evil, but I see a video game industry that teaches young people to kill,” Patrick said, speaking on Fox and Friends shortly after the shooting.

But Patrick, a former conservative talk radio host, said on Friday that he was willing to break with the National Rifle Association’s staunch opposition to expanding background checks for purchasers of firearms. Speaking to the Dallas Morning News, Patrick said he now supports requiring background checks for private sales of guns between two strangers (though he still thinks there should be an exception for sales between friends and family members):

“That gap of stranger to stranger we have to close, in my view,” Patrick, a staunchly conservative Republican and avid gun-rights advocate, said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News.

“When I talk to gun owners, NRA members and voters, people don’t understand why we allow strangers to sell guns to total strangers when they have no idea if the person they’re selling the gun to could be a felon, could be someone who’s getting a gun to go commit a crime or could be a potential mass shooter or someone who has serious mental issues.”

“Look, I’m a solid NRA guy,” he said, “but not expanding the background check to eliminate the stranger to stranger sale makes no sense to me and … most folks.”

Prior to the 2018 election, Patrick was awarded an A-plus rating and strongly endorsed by the NRA, but the gun rights group was not happy with Patrick’s latest statements. According to the Dallas Morning News, the group issued a statement calling Patrick’s ideas “political gambits” and said they would  “resurrect the same broken, Bloomberg-funded failures that were attempted under the Obama administration.”