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Youngkin scores legislative victories as he targets the White House


Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who quickly went from political newcomer to potential Republican 2024 presidential nominee, kicked off his state’s legislative session in January by telling lawmakers he wanted to “do more and do it.” faster”.

As the dust settles on his second business session with Virginia’s politically divided General Assembly, the former private equity executive has scored a string of victories, including taking steps to take a tougher stance against China, which , according to his allies, could help him in a possible race for the White House. .

But many of his legislative priorities, such as pushing for more tax cuts, are linked to budget negotiations. Others, including proposals to restrict abortion access or toughen penalties for criminals, have been blocked by Democrats controlling the state Senate.

Youngkin is among Republican governors eyeing the White House hoping to gain political momentum after presiding over productive legislative sessions this year. In Florida, for example, Gov. Ron DeSantis plans to use a session that began last week to advance conservative priorities. But the task was made more difficult for Youngkin due to Virginia’s divided legislature.

“He got a lot of solid singles in the middle, a few doubles against the wall. Big home runs? Not yet,” said Chris Saxman, a Republican former member of the House of Delegates who leads a nonpartisan organization focused on the intersection of Virginia business and politics.

Youngkin is still working to advance his priorities at home over the next few weeks – he can propose amendments to bills that will be taken up in April. But he’s also been keen to keep a national profile, as evidenced by his appearance at a primetime town hall on Thursday night on CNN. He has resumed traveling out of state and has done nothing to stop talk of a possible race in 2024, giving indirect answers about his plans while saying his top priority is his current job.

Virginia law bars him from seeking a second consecutive term as governor. His four-year term began in January 2022.

“That’s where I’m focusing right now. And I believe there was still an awful lot of work to be done in Virginia,” Youngkin said at the end of the education-focused town hall.

National media appearances and ongoing travel, including a trip to New York for donor meetings, have led to criticism from an occasional Republican and Virginia Democrats that he is focused on duties higher at state expense.

Democrats who control the state Senate have spent the session boasting that they are a “brick wall” capable of thwarting many of Youngkin’s and House Republicans’ priorities, including efforts to enact a 15-week abortion ban.

On some issues, however, they found common ground.

The first bill the governor has promoted with an official signing of the bill aims to make it easier to get licensed or experienced workers such as barbers and cosmetologists to Virginia and get straight to work.

Youngkin told reporters that the bill, along with a labor and business-backed measure streamlining now dispersed workforce development programs under a single agency, were among the measures he was happiest to see adopted.

His administration has been hailed by consumer advocates for his role in a compromise measure that would restore some oversight of regulators who set rates and the profitability of Dominion Energy, the politically powerful company that runs the largest state electricity monopoly.

The governor is expected to sign a bill that would adopt a new definition of anti-Semitism into state code that supporters say will help Virginia track and combat hatred toward the Jewish community. He also celebrated the passage of several bills aimed at addressing the Chinese threat, including a measure banning foreign adversaries from buying or acquiring farmland.

Early in the session, Youngkin revealed he scuttled a state effort to land a large electric vehicle battery plant, a move between Ford Motor Co. and a Chinese company that is instead setting up shop in Michigan. . The governor’s administration called the project a “front” for the Chinese Communist Party, which would raise national security concerns.

Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman from Virginia who thinks Youngkin is well-placed to run for president, said the Ford plant could help him with a campaign. While Republicans, especially presidential candidates, have taken an increasingly hard line against China in recent months, the move “kinda immunizes” Youngkin against potential political attacks during his tenure as co. -CEO of the Carlyle Group when the private equity firm did business with Chinese companies, Davis said.

Youngkin’s call for an additional $1 billion in corporate and personal income tax cuts beyond the roughly $4 billion he signed into law last year is tied to budget negotiations that could drag on for months. The same goes for his proposal for a major increase in mental health spending and the expansion of child literacy and school innovation initiatives.

Youngkin’s proposed abortion bill went nowhere, though Virginia attracted national attention, including from the White House, after her administration testified against a bill that would have barred police to issue search warrants for digitized data on women’s menstrual cycles. Youngkin’s office said the bill, which passed the Senate with bipartisan support, would hamper law enforcement. The measure was not forwarded to the governor.

Speaking to reporters on the final day of session, Youngkin called Democrats hardline on ‘common sense’ issues, including a bill he wanted that would have allowed prosecutors to sue. for murder against drug dealers if a user died of an overdose. Youngkin and his wife, Suzanne, through his advocacy work, have made fighting the threat of fentanyl a vocal priority. The issue has become a major concern for Republican politicians and presidential candidates.

A recent poll showed Youngkin, the first Republican to lead Virginia in more than a decade, with relatively high approval ratings in a state Biden won by 10 percentage points. But Democrats say Youngkin’s political priorities don’t match voters and will help them flip the State House and retain the Senate in November, when all 140 legislative seats are on the ballot.

“Glenn Youngkin gave us a great gift. He gave us issues to work on and defined the difference between electing Democrats and electing right-wing Republicans,” Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Virginia Democratic Party, said recently.

Davis sees the political divide in another way. He said Senate Democrats throwing cold water on some of Youngkin’s priorities would likely only help him if he becomes a presidential candidate, becoming a “perfect foil” for his conservative policies.

“It’s not fights that hurt the governor nationally,” Davis said. “I think they probably advanced his stature nationally for the Republican nomination.”


Price reported from New York.

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