The two leaders of Milwaukee's host committee for the 2020 Democratic National Convention were fired late Tuesday amid allegations that they oversaw a toxic work environment, a dramatic shakeup less than six months before the showcase political event in swing state Wisconsin.
The host committee board issued a statement saying that the group's president, Liz Gilbert, and its chief of staff, Adam Alonso, were no longer employed by the organization effective immediately. The firings came a day after Gilbert and Alonso were placed on leave pending an investigation.
Gilbert and Alonso did not immediately return messages Tuesday seeking comment.
"Every employee has a right to feel respected in their workplace," the committee board said. "Based on the information we have learned to date, we believe the work environment did not meet the ideals and expectations of the Milwaukee 2020 Host Committee Board of Directors."
The host committee is a civic, nonpartisan group responsible for raising the $70 million, recruiting the 15,000 volunteers and providing the facilities needed to put on the convention in July. The Democratic National Convention Committee runs the convention and is separate from the host committee.
Joe Solmonese, the chief executive of the Democratic National Convention Committee, said the "gravity of the concernd raised" demanded a serious and meaningful response and he was grateful for the board acting promptly to address the issue.
"Employees who take a stand and call for respect, fairness, and safety in their workplace have our full support, and I am proud of the Host Committee employees who courageously came forward," Solmonese said in a statement.
Teresa Vilmain, described as a Wisconsin resident and convention veteran, was named as manager of day-to-day operations during the transition.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported on the investigation and obtained an unsigned letter, verified by one of the women who worked on it, sent Jan. 30 from "senior women" of the host committee to the Milwaukee 2020 board of directors. They allege that Alonso "consistently bullied and intimidated staff members," primarily the women. They said his "mismanagement" was enabled by Gilbert, creating a "toxic and unstable working environment" and fostered "a culture that coddles male senior advisers and consultants" They described a fear of retribution and lack of trust among staff.
Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said earlier Tuesday that he was concerned about the allegations, but not what impact they would have on raising money and other work to prepare for the convention.
"If the allegations are strong, we need to take them seriously," Evers told reporters. "I don't believe it's going to have an impact, the convention is going to happen and we're going to get it off the ground in a good way. But I'm really happy we're doing an investigation."
Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who worked behind the scenes to land the convention in Wisconsin, called the allegations "serious."
"Everyone working to make this convention a success deserves a leadership team of unquestioned integrity," she said in a statement before the firings.
Alonso was fired less than a week after he was involved with a controversy in his home state of New Jersey, where both he and Gilbert are top-ranking Democratic operatives.
Julie Roginsky, a former consultant to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, said his 2017 campaign was a "hotbed of toxicity" and she experienced "rank misogyny." She did not specifically name Alonso, who worked on the campaign, but said the campaign manager had used a vulgarity toward her. He denied it but said he had cursed at her and apologized.
The governor's office disagreed with Roginsky and said her comments stemmed from strategic differences.
Roginsky also alleged that Alonso tried to use his ties to the governor to generate business from lobbyists for his personal consulting firm.
Alonso denied the claims in an email to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Federal election filings show that both Alonso and Gilbert continued getting paid by Democratic clients in New Jersey after they started working for the nonpartisan host committee in Milwaukee last year. Alonso was paid $65,000 through his consulting firm by the New Jersey Democratic Party since late May when he started work for the host committee. Gilbert was paid $5,000 through her consulting firm by the New Jersey Democratic Party since she started working for the host committee in September.
The New Jersey Democratic State Committee said in a statement that it was no longer affiliated with Alonso and his consulting firm the Cratos Group but did not explain why.
Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used her party's response to President Donald Trump's State of the Union address Tuesday to appeal to working-class voters, saying Democrats are focusing on making health care more affordable and addressing other pocket-book issues.
"It's pretty simple. Democrats are trying to make your health care better. Republicans in Washington are trying to take it away," said Whitmer, whose state Trump captured narrowly in 2016 by appealing to lower-earning workers.
Democrats captured House control in 2018 by emphasizing efforts by Trump and congressional Republicans to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law. Democrats say they intend to concentrate on health care in this year's campaign as well, including opposing an administration-backed federal lawsuit aimed at declaring Obama's statute unconstitutional.
Trump's impeachment has dominated Washington since the fall and in a remarkable confluence of events, the GOP-run Senate was set to acquit him Wednesday, less than 24 hours after his address. Whitmer did not mention impeachment in the excerpts of her remarks that Democrats provided beforehand, preferring instead to hone in on people's economic well-being.
"It doesn't matter what the president says about the stock market," said Whitmer, whose name has surfaced as a potential vice presidential nominee. "What matters is that millions of people struggle to get by or don't have enough money at the end of the month after paying for transportation, student loans, or prescription drugs."
Michigan hadn't voted for the GOP presidential candidate since 1988. Trump used narrow victories there and in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to unexpectedly win the 2016 election, and Democrats are determined to shore up their support in the Midwest, including among white working-class voters who abandoned them.
"American workers are hurting," Whitmer said, listing those states. "All over the country. Wages have stagnated, while CEO pay has skyrocketed."
Democrats' selection of Whitmer, 48, also underscored their desire to reach out to women. Recent polling and elections have shown that Trump is particularly unpopular with women, and their votes will be crucial if the party is to perform strongly in moderate suburban areas.
Whitmer, speaking at East Lansing High School, which her daughters attend, described the ordeal of caring for her infant daughter and dying mother years ago.
"I was up all night with a baby and during the day, I had to fight my mom's insurance company when they wrongly denied her coverage for chemotherapy," she said. "It was hard. It exposed the harsh realities of our workplaces, our health care system, and our child care system."
In Democrats' Spanish-language response, freshman Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar also spoke of health care and workers' struggles to get by.
But in English language excerpts, she also described last August's mass killing in her hometown of El Paso, Texas, by a shooter who she said "used hateful language like the very words used by President Trump to describe immigrants and Latinos."
Escobar also touched on Trump's impeachment, saying that he'd jeopardized the next election and threatened national security with his efforts to pressure Ukraine, an ally fighting Russian-backed insurgents, to produce damaging information on political rival Joe Biden.
"We Democrats will continue to fight for truth and for what is right. No one is above the law," Escobar said.
Stepping before the nation in extraordinary times, President Donald Trump on Tuesday will extol the "Great American Comeback" as he delivers his State of the Union address on the eve of his likely impeachment acquittal and in the aftermath of the chaotic first votes of the race to replace him.
The first president to run for reelection after being impeached, Trump will argue that the nation's economic success is the chief rationale for a second term, according to speech excerpts released by the White House in advance. The main suspense was whether he would address the charges against him.
"In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America's destiny," Trump said in prepared remarks. "We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never going back!"
Trump aimed to spend much of the speech highlighting the economy's strength, including low unemployment, stressing how it has helped blue-collar workers and the middle class, though the period of growth began under his predecessor, Barack Obama. And what Trump calls an unprecedented boom is, by many measures, not all that different from the solid economy he inherited from Obama. Economic growth was 2.3% in 2019, matching the average pace since the Great Recession ended a decade ago in the first year of Obama's eight-year presidency. Trump promised much higher.
In the nationally televised speech, Trump is speaking from the House of Representatives, on the opposite side of the Capitol from where the Senate one day later is expected to acquit him largely along party lines.
"This is a president with an enormous sense of drama and a background in television who understands that the setting gives him an opportunity," said presidential historian Michael Beschloss. "This is an opportunity to set the course for reelection."
White House aides have promised an optimistic speech that will look past the impeachment trial that has consumed Washington in favor of a recitation of accomplishments and promises. But Trump often veers from his script and may not be able to resist using the moment to claim exoneration and settle scores. And even in the moments when Trump has struck a tone of bipartisanship and cooperation, he has consistently returned to his scorched earth rhetoric within days.
Even for a Trump-era news cycle that seems permanently set to hyper-speed, the breakneck pace of events dominating the first week of February offered a singular backdrop for the president's address. Yet Trump told TV anchors at a midday meal that his address would be "extraordinarily low key."
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who has presided in the Senate over only the third impeachment trial in the nation's history, will be on hand Tuesday night — this time in his more customary seat in the audience. Trump will stand before the very lawmakers who have voted to remove him from office — and those who are expected to acquit him when the Senate trial comes to a close.
And over his shoulder, visible in nearly every camera shot, will be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a frequent thorn in Trump's side who created a viral image with her seemingly sarcastic applause of the president a year ago and who authorized the impeachment proceedings that charged the president with abusing the power of his office to push Ukraine to investigate a political foe.
Trump will also stare out at some of the Democrats who have been vying to take his job, although it was unclear if he would weigh in on the confusion in Iowa, where the results of Monday's leadoff caucuses were delayed. In advance of his address, Trump tweeted that the caucus chaos showed Democrats were incompetent and should not be trusted to run the government.
Trump spent the hours before his speech tucked away at the White House, hosting network anchors for lunch while working on final drafts of the address. He entered the moment on a roll, with his impeachment acquittal imminent, his job approval numbers ticking upward and Wall Street looking strong. Aides played down the possibility that he would use the address to seek vengeance over impeachment.
"I think that this has gone on for too long and I think that, if you look at the ratings, the American people are frankly bored of it," White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told Fox News early Tuesday.
In the closest historical comparison, Bill Clinton did not mention his recent impeachment when he delivered his State of the Union in 1999. In his address a year ago, Trump did remain on message, making no mention of how Pelosi had originally disinvited him from delivering the speech during the longest government shutdown in the nation's history.
Trump aimed to spend much of the speech highlighting the economy's strength, including low unemployment, stressing how it has helped blue-collar workers and the middle class, though the period of growth began under his predecessor, Barack Obama.And what Trump calls an unprecedented boom is, by many measures, not all that different from the solid economy he inherited from President Barack Obama. Economic growth was 2.3% in 2019, matching the average pace since the Great Recession ended a decade ago in the first year of Obama's eight-year presidency
Trump, according to aides, also planned to stress the new trade agreements he has negotiated, including his phase-one deal with China and the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement he signed last month.
While the White House said the president would have a message of unity, he also planned to spend time on issues that have created great division and resonated with his political base. He will attack the Democrats' health care proposals for being too intrusive and again highlight his signature issue — immigration — trumpeting the miles of border wall that have been constructed.
"The United States of America should be a Sanctuary for Law-Abiding Americans – Not Criminal Aliens!" Trump is to say, according to the excerpts. "My Administration has undertaken an unprecedented effort to secure the Southern Border of the United States."
He will also dedicate a section to "American values," discussing efforts to protect "religious liberties" and limit access to abortion as he continues to court the evangelical and conservative Christian voters who form a crucial part of his base.
As usual, the presidential guests will reflect issues that Trump wants to highlight. The invited guests include military families, immigration officials and the former sheriff from Venezuela who fled to the United States.
The Democrats were supplying plenty of counter-programming, focusing on health care — the issue key to their takeover of the House last year. Many female Democrats were wearing white as tribute to the suffragettes, while a number in the party were wearing red, white and blue-striped lapel pins to highlight climate change, saying Trump has rolled back environmental safeguards and given free rein to polluters.
Several Democratic lawmakers, including California Rep. Maxine Waters and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, announced in advance of the speech that they would be skipping it, with the high-profile New York freshman tweeting that she would "not use my presence at a state ceremony to normalize Trump's lawless conduct & subversion of the Constitution."
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was delivering the party's official response and, in excerpts released ahead of the speech, was to draw a contrast between actions taken by Democrats and the president's rhetoric.
"It doesn't matter what the president says about the stock market," Whitmer says. "What matters is that millions of people struggle to get by or don't have enough money at the end of the month after paying for transportation, student loans, or prescription drugs."
Monday night could not have gone better for online troublemakers who have spent years propagating false or misleading conspiracy theories on the internet that the U.S. election is rigged or vulnerable to tampering.
The delayed election results from the Iowa caucuses revealed some Democratic candidates' supporters are so distrustful of the outcome that they peppered the internet with unproven claims that accused the Democratic Party of corruption by attempting to tilt the election in favor of a single candidate.
President Donald Trump and his supporters seized on that distrust by sending tweets Monday night with the hashtag #RiggedElection. Trump's own sons shouted "Rigged!" at an Iowa campaign event. And Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham suggested in a tweet that the caucus issues were the result of a "Bernie blowout."
It's the type of conspiracy theory that experts fear will dog this year's presidential race until Election Day.
"Democracy depends on the losers accepting election results," said University of California, Irvine, Professor Richard Hasen, whose book "Election Meltdown" was published Tuesday in what he said was an ominous coincidence. "Now we're starting off the election season with seeds of doubt, which is terrible."
In recent months, social media users have promoted conspiracy theories around the legitimacy of election results around the country, from a gubernatorial race in Kentucky to statehouse races in Virginia.
The tweets Monday began spreading minutes after the Iowa Democratic Party announced it was reviewing results for "quality control." The app used by the Iowa Democratic Party to collect results Monday experienced technical glitches that left the caucus results in limbo through Tuesday.
"Quality control = rigged?" Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a tweet that has since been shared and liked more than 20,000 times.
As the delay of final results continued into Tuesday, social media users spread theories of complex schemes that were deployed to keep the results hidden in order undermine certain Democratic candidates such as Sen. Bernie Sanders. Many of the tweets suggested the Democratic Party or the Democratic National Convention intentionally bungled the caucus results, even though the Iowa Democratic Party administered Monday's caucus.
"Iowa is just the start guys," wrote one Twitter user, who has a profile picture of himself in a Bernie Sanders t-shirt. "The Democratic Party will not allow Bernie to win."
The online conspiracy theories, in some cases, were based on easily debunked or misleading claims.
For example, Facebook and Twitter posts falsely suggested that former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Sanders' opponent in the 2016 primary, had a hand in developing the ill-fated app used to collect the Iowa results. Further fueling that distrust was that three of the senior executives at Shadow Inc., which created the app, previously worked for Clinton's failed campaign.
Some posts, which were shared thousands of times, accused former Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook of creating the app.
In a tweet, Mook said he "did not have" anything to do with building the caucus app. Mook did not immediately return The Associated Press' request for comment.
Other online posts placed blamed the problem on a new culprit: Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor who unsuccessfully ran to be the Democratic party's chairman three years ago.
Some social media users insisted he had pulled off a scam to delay the results with the help of party insiders. Others wrongly asserted that Buttigieg's campaign had developed the app used for the Iowa caucus. Other social media posts pointed out that the founder of a nonprofit organization that launched Shadow Inc. last year is married to a senior adviser for Pete Buttigieg's 2020 campaign.
By Tuesday morning, #MayorCheat was trending on Twitter, where it was mentioned more than 120,000 times by the afternoon.
The hashtag was first sent by verified Twitter accounts, according to analysis by Ben Nimmo, a disinformation and security expert for social media analysis firm Graphika. As of Tuesday, there were no signs that foreign accounts were promoting the hashtag, he added.
"This is Americans trolling Americans," Nimmo said. "That's the really worrying thing in 2020."
That misinformation is partly rooted in the fact that Buttigieg's campaign has paid Shadow Inc., the company behind the Iowa caucus app, for software.
Buttigieg's campaign paid $42,500 to Shadow Inc. for text messaging software in July. Other Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and the Texas Democratic Party, have contracted with Shadow for similar services, federal campaign finance data show.
The Buttigieg campaign did not help develop the app used in Iowa, a campaign spokesman confirmed Tuesday to the AP.
In a statement on Twitter, Shadow Inc. apologized for the delays and confirmed it had "contracted with the Iowa Democratic Party to build a caucus reporting mobile app for local officials to use" Monday.
State fundraising reports from Iowa's Democratic Party show party officials paid more than $63,000 to the same firm in November and December for "professional fees."
The Iowa results were backed up by paper ballots, which is what the Iowa Democratic Party is using to verify the results. Figures reflecting 62% of precincts in the state were released Tuesday afternoon.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat who is vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, warned that foreign groups looking to destabilize the U.S. could try to exploit the doubts and fears spread online over the Iowa results. He said the Iowa episode should serve as an "early warning sign" that Congress, local election officials and social media platforms must do more to protect election integrity.
"It does ... reinforce the fact, as we have started to see over the internet, conspiracy theories pop up, that whether domestic or foreign efforts to undermine confidence in our elections, that those threats are out there," Warner said to reporters Tuesday.
In November, for example, social media posters exaggerated small-scale voting problems in Kentucky to suggest the results of the governor's races were spoiled by dead people voting or misprinted ballots. The now-former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin requested a recanvass of the results because of what he said were "irregularities" after the initial vote tally put his re-election bid behind by 5,000 votes — but he refused to provide evidence of those problems. Bevins, a Republican, later conceded to now-Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat.
These type of cases show it's important for the presidential candidates to foster trust in the system among their supporters, said Charles Stewart III, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"I really wish and hope that the candidates will recognize that if they don't defend the system when it can be defended that they are doing harm to democracy and doing harm to devalue the nomination they're seeking," Stewart said.
Two sisters were were killed and the 2-year-old son of one was wounded in a shooting at a university dormitory in Texas that police say was an isolated event without identifying a shooter.
Texas A&M University-Commerce police said Tuesday that Deja Matts, 19, and Abbaney Matts, 20, were killed in the Monday morning shooting at Pride Rock residence hall on the campus in Commerce, about 65 miles (105 kilometers) northeast of Dallas. Abbaney Matts' son has been released from the hospital and is in the care of family.
School officials said Deja Matts, of the Dallas suburb of Garland, was a freshman at the university pursuing a bachelor's degree in public health. Abbaney Matts was not enrolled at the school.
Police said Tuesday that the shooting "appears to be a targeted, isolated event," adding that authorities are continuing to investigate. Following the shooting Monday, police said there appeared to be no other threats.
The university has canceled classes until Thursday and says counselors are available for students..
In October, two people were killed and a dozen others injured in an off-campus shooting at a homecoming and Halloween party involving Texas A&M-Commerce students.