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Trump applauded audits taking place in various states and scoffed at the notion that all of this was subversive and problematic for society. “I’m not the one trying to undermine democracy,” Trump said as the crowd stood on their feet. “I’m the one trying to save it.”

The speech was not all about questioning the election’s legitimacy. In fact, that portion came nearly an hour into it. Prior to that, Trump bragged about his administration’s role in developing the coronavirus vaccine and attacked the Biden administration’s foreign policy, energy and immigration policies.

“If we had not come up with a vaccine, you would have had 1917 Spanish flu numbers,” Trump said of the virus’ death toll and Operation Warp Speed.

The former president attacked infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has become a boogeyman for Trump and the right, as “not a great doctor, but a hell of a promoter.”

“Fauci said at the beginning, ‘no masks.’ Remember that? Then he became a radical masker. Get three, four. Get a pair of goggles, ideally. Wear them for another five or six years,” Trump said to laughter from the audience.

He was met with a standing ovation when he demanded China pay $10 trillion in “reparations” for its role in the coronavirus pandemic and again when he called for the banning of critical race theory in schools, the culture wars issue du jour for the GOP.

He recounted his favorite moments in office, re-litigated his long-standing grievances and was unwilling to let go of the slights he believed marred his time in office — at one point recounting how the press covered his gingerly walk down a ramp after delivering a speech at West Point. At times, it gave off the vibe of an entertainer in the twilight of his career, playing the hits for a Vegas crowd. And, for good measure, the evening featured a relatively new addition to the Trump rally playlist: “My Heart Will Go On,” the theme song from “Titanic” and the classic hit of Vegas-staple Celine Dion.

The crowd loved it.

Trump, who narrowly won North Carolina in the past two presidential elections, expressed optimism for the Republican Party in 2022 and beyond.

In a surprise announcement, he gave his “complete and total” endorsement to Rep. Ted Budd in the state’s Senate primary. The news — which Trump shared with Budd just 15 minutes before taking the stage — was made after Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump, a native of Wilmington, N.C., publicly ruled out a run for the seat.

“Now you may have heard a rumor that I have been considering possibly running for Senate,” said Trump, who said she is instead focusing on her role as a mother. “I am saying no for now, not no forever.”

The speech served as a quasi kick off to the will-he-or-won’t-he stage of speculation around whether Trump will give a White House run another go. He has privately told confidantes that he is inclined to do so and recently put out a statement premised on the idea that he wouldn’t just run again, but win. Saturday was Trump’s first public speech since appearing at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February. Since then, the ex-president has made remarks behind closed doors at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida and has done interviews with friendly, right-leaning shows.

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“He just can’t quit it and get away from it,” said one former campaign adviser. “He probably sees this as a legacy defining thing, and I know it’s superficial to say but he doesn’t want to go out as a loser.”

Trump is planning to cross the country making a series of speeches this summer. So far, he’s expected to appear in Ohio, to support former White House aide turned congressional candidate Max Miller; in Alabama to support Republican Senate candidate Rep. Mo Brooks; in Georgia, where he remains embittered about the outcome of the 2020 election results; and his home state of Florida. He’s also scheduled to speak at CPAC Texas this July in Dallas.

“It’s really about getting back out to carry a positive message for America forward and start to contrast America First agenda versus a Biden short term results,” said a senior adviser to Trump. “Florida and Ohio are on the list to get out quickly and do rallies but it won’t stop there — he’s ready to re-engage in the political arena.”

An appearance via jumbotron at a “free speech” event next week hosted by My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has openly speculated that Trump will be reinstated to the White House in August, is also likely, a spokesperson said. Trump himself has been absorbed with the Arizona audit that he has mused will result in his reinstatement. But one senior adviser said the former president does not seriously believe he will be returning to the White House through non-electoral means.

While publicly, allies of Trump have been supportive of him returning to the trail, behind the scenes there has been hand-wringing over how Trump’s obsession with re-litigating the 2020 elections could affect the midterms.

A person close to Trump noted some top Republican donors who have listened to Trump speak have been disappointed with the former president’s messaging.

“They came to hear something different and talk about the future and not the past,” the person said, of one recent event in Mar-a-Lago. “They didn’t hear anything new from Trump, more grievances and nothing new.”

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Crime

Joe Biden: “Police Chief Murray…Excuse Me, Police Chief Mary, Police Chief Murphy Paul”

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President Joe Biden said, “Police Chief Murray…excuse me, Police Chief Mary, Police Chief Murphy Paul,” during remarks he delivered at the White House on guns and the rise in crime on 6/23/2021.

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Critical Race Theory

General’s response to Matt Gaetz leaves him shaking his head

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The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, says he wants to know what caused the January 6th insurrection and fired back at Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-FL) question about critical race theory.

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New Jersey lawmakers advance $46.4B budget minutes after making it public

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It totals $1.6 billion more than the $44.8 billion spending plan Murphy proposed in February, buoyed in large part by billions of dollars in better-than-expected revenues, and more than $4 billion Democrats who control the Legislature agreed to borrow last fall. There’s also $6.2 billion the state received from the most recent federal stimulus package.

Republican lawmakers fumed that they were shut out of the process, and complained they didn’t see the budget bills until the last minute.

“There has been such a rush and no transparency on this that we’re going to either vote no or abstain on these budget bills. There’s no way, physically, anybody could have read these or gone through them,” said Assemblymember Hal Wirths (R-Sussex), a member of his chamber’s budget committee. “I know sausage-making is ugly, but I’m not going to partake in it today.”

Democratic lawmakers negotiated the spending plan behind closed doors, and details were released piecemeal on Monday through joint statements issued by Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. The full spending plan wasn’t made available until late Tuesday afternoon, shortly before Democratic lawmakers vote it out of committee.

The Assembly Budget committee advanced the bill, 5-4; the Senate Budget Committee cleared it, 8-3.

The Senate committee considered dozens of bills Tuesday —  including a number pertaining to the budget — that were introduced on a rolling basis during the marathon meeting.

That process led to confusion, with committee Chair Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) repeatedly calling up bills that weren’t yet available for review. At one point, his committee approved legislation that appropriates nearly $115 million of lapsed funds from the current fiscal year budget, even though text of the bill wasn’t publicly available.

“Every year, you guys say it wasn’t transparent enough. But I believe it w as no different than any other year,” Sarlo told reporters after his committee adjourned, later explaining away the $115 million bill by saying, “it’s no different from any supplemental appropriation that has gone on for the last 30 years down here.”

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Based on the lofty bar set by previous cycles, the 2022 fiscal year budget is running ahead of schedule. With Murphy and all 120-seats in the Legislature on the ballot in November, there’s little chance of midnight negotiating sessions and last-minute requests for special appropriations from individual lawmakers that will risk a government shutdown.

And unlike the previous years, New Jersey has money to spend for FY 2022, with $5.2 billion in better-than-expected revenues as well as the federal stimulus money.

Murphy has the authority to line-item veto certain spending or reject the budget in its entirety, but that’s unlikely to happen this year as both sides have already reached agreement.

The budget must be in place by midnight June 30.

Democrats defended this year’s budget for what it includes, such as the massive contribution to the pension system, prioritizing the debt and investing in in special education and health care.

Some of the top line items include: $500 million for rental assistance, $250 million for utility relief, $180 million for HVAC improvements to schools and $100 million to help reopen child care centers.

“These are priorities that care for those who are most in need,” Assembly Budget Committee member John McKeon (D-Essex) said before “proudly“ voting yes. “I think this is just an amazing budget and the product of the collective efforts of leadership, the governor and the values that we all stand for.“

Assemblymember Serena DiMaso (R-Monmouth) read through the budget score sheet, questioning certain appropriations: “Hoboken Community Center, a million dollars. Highland Park, another 750,000 dollars. My favorite is the spotted lantern fly, which gets 515,000 dollars “My question is, who wants this stuff?” she said. “And why doesn’t the public know who asked for this money to be put aside for these things? Some of them sound like George Costanza made them up.”

The Senate committee took several breaks to regroup as GOP members scrambled to mount opposition to major bills they’d barely seen, or hadn’t seen at all. As the committee hearing crept into its third hour, Sarlo began reading off text of NJ S4000 (20R), which would appropriate $3.7 billion to a “New Jersey Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund,” before it was distributed to members.

“This is no way to run an asylum,” state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) said.

The committee promptly took a recess.

“It reeks of Nancy Pelosi, we have to pass it to find out what’s in it,” state Sen. Mike Testa (R-Cumberland) told legislative staff as he went into the break.

Daniel Han contributed to this report.

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