Trump regurgitates racist rhetoric at rally

Donald Trump speaks. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Going after four Democratic congresswomen one by one, a combative President Donald Trump turned his campaign rally Wednesday into an extended dissection of the liberal views of the women of color, deriding them for what he painted as extreme positions and suggesting they just get out.

“Tonight I have a suggestion for the hate-filled extremists who are constantly trying to tear our country down,” Trump told the crowd in North Carolina, a swing state he won in 2016 and wants to claim again in 2020. “They never have anything good to say. That’s why I say, ‘Hey if you don’t like it, let ‘em leave, let ‘em leave.’”

Eager to rile up his base with the some of the same kind of rhetoric he targeted at minorities and women in 2016, Trump declared, “I think in some cases they hate our country.”

Trump’s jabs were aimed at the self-described “squad” of four freshmen Democrats who have garnered attention since their arrival in January for their outspoken liberal views and distaste for Trump: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All were born in the U.S. except for Omar, who came to the U.S. as a child after fleeing Somalia with her family.

Taking the legislators on one at a time, Trump ticked through a laundry list of what he deemed offensive comments by each woman, mangling and misconstruing many facts along the way.

Omar came under the harshest criticism as Trump played to voters’ grievances, drawing a chant from the crowd of “Send her back! Send her back!”

Trump set off a firestorm Sunday when he tweeted that the four should “go back” to their home countries — though three were born in the United States. Trump has accused them of “spewing some of the most vile, hateful and disgusting things ever said by a politician.”

He expanded on his criticisms in Greenville.

Among his complaints against Tlaib, Trump correctly reported that she had referred to the president by the “F-word,” adding, “That’s not nice, even for me.” Trump himself had unloaded a vulgarity earlier in his speech, denouncing the Russia probe of his campaign and administration as “bulls—.”

As for Ocasio-Cortez, Trump fumbled over her name and declared, “I don’t have time to go with three different names.” He then referred to her as just “Cortez” as he challenged her complaints about dire conditions at migrant detention centers at the border.

In a lighter moment, Trump wondered if Pressley was related to Elvis Presley, then pivoted to more serious points, claiming she thought people of color should “think the same.”

As for Omar, Trump unfurled a whole list of complaints, including a false accusation that she voiced pride in al-Qaida.

Before he left Washington, Trump said he has no regrets about his ongoing spat with the four. Trump told reporters he thinks he’s “winning the political argument” and “winning it by a lot.”

“If people want to leave our country, they can. If they don’t want to love our country, if they don’t want to fight for our country, they can,” Trump said. “I’ll never change on that.”

Trump’s harsh denunciations were another sign of his willingness to exploit the nation’s racial divisions heading into the 2020 campaign.

His speech was filled with Trump’s trademark criticisms about the news media, which he says sides with liberals, and of special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Mueller had been scheduled to testify Wednesday on Capitol Hill, but it was postponed. Trump brought him up anyway. “What happened to me with this witch hunt should never be allowed to happen to another president,” he said.

He also talked about illegal immigration, a main theme of his first presidential bid that is taking center stage in his re-election campaign. He brushed off the criticism he has gotten for saying that the congresswomen should go back home. “So controversial,” he said sarcastically.

The four freshmen have portrayed the president as a bully who wants to “vilify” not only immigrants, but all people of color. They say they are fighting for their priorities to lower health care costs and pass a Green New Deal addressing climate change, while his thundering attacks are a distraction and tear at the core of America values.

The Democratic-led U.S. House voted Tuesday to condemn Trump for what it labeled “racist comments,” despite near-solid GOP opposition and the president’s own insistence that he doesn’t have a “racist bone” in his body.

Trump hasn’t shown signs of being rattled by the House rebuke, and called an impeachment resolution that failed in Congress earlier Wednesday “ridiculous.” The condemnation carries no legal repercussions and his latest harangues struck a chord with supporter in Greenville, whose chants of “Four more years!” and “Build that wall!” bounced off the rafters.

Vice President Mike Pence was first up after spending the day in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and visiting troops at Fort Bragg. “North Carolina and America needs four more years,” Pence said.

It was Trump’s sixth visit to the state as president and his first 2020 campaign event in North Carolina, where he defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.

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Trump attacks Mueller, claims he was ‘exonerated’

President Donald Trump talks with reporters before departing on Marine One for the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony, Thursday, May 30, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump angrily assailed special counsel Robert Mueller’s motives on Thursday, a day after Mueller bluntly rebuffed Trump’s repeated claims that the Russia investigation had cleared him of obstructing justice.

The president also offered mixed messages on Russia’s efforts to help him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign. Early in the day, Trump tweeted he had “nothing to do with Russia helping me get elected.” That was the first time he seemed to acknowledge that Russia tried to help his campaign. Then on the White House South Lawn, Trump told reporters: “Russia did not help me get elected. You know who got me elected? You know who got me elected? I got me elected. Russia didn’t help me at all.”

Mueller’s report said Russia interfered in the election in hopes of getting Trump elected, but his findings and intelligence officials have stopped short of saying the efforts contributed to Trump’s victory.

Trump’s 20-minute eruption underscored that he remains deeply distressed over the probe that has shadowed his presidency for nearly two years, even after Mueller announced his resignation and the closure of his office. Democrats are mulling the possibility of impeachment proceedings.

Trump insisted that he’s been tough on Russia and that Moscow would have preferred Clinton as president. But that’s not what Russian President Vladimir Putin has said. When asked last year in Helsinki whether he wanted Trump to become president, Putin replied: “Yes, I did.”

On Wednesday, Mueller, in his first public remarks on the Russia investigation, pointedly rejected Trump’s claims — repeated almost daily — that the special counsel’s investigation cleared him of criminal activity and was a “witch hunt.” Mueller emphasized that he had not exonerated Trump on the question of whether he obstructed justice, but said charging Trump with any crime was “not an option” because of Justice Department rules.

“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller declared.

Attorney General William Barr, however, said Mueller could have reached a decision on whether Trump obstructed justice. Barr said in an interview with “CBS This Morning” that though Justice Department rules prevent the indictment of a sitting president, Mueller nonetheless could have decided whether Trump had committed a crime.

Trump repeated his baseless claims that Mueller is “conflicted,” contending that Mueller, who served as FBI director under President George W. Bush, wanted his old job back, but that he had told him no. He said Mueller, a Republican, was “a true never Trumper” and “didn’t get a job that he wanted very badly.”

Mueller had been considered for the FBI director position shortly before being named as special counsel. But then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has said that while the White House had invited Mueller to speak to the president about the FBI and thought about asking him to become director again, Mueller did not come in looking for a job.

Trump also said Mueller should have investigated law enforcement officials who the president claims tried to undermine him. Mueller’s mandate, however, was to investigate Russian election interference, possible coordination with the Trump campaign and any obstruction of that investigation.

Among those whom Trump says Mueller should have investigated were members of the special counsel’s own team, including Peter Strzok, a former FBI agent who helped lead the investigation and exchanged anti-Trump text messages during the 2016 election with ex-FBI lawyer Lisa Page.

Strzok was removed from Mueller’s investigative team following the discovery of the texts and later was fired from the FBI. Page has left the bureau. Strzok told Congress that there was “no conspiracy” at the FBI to prevent Trump from becoming president.

Trump, asked about impeachment by Congress, called it a “dirty word” and said he couldn’t imagine the courts allowing him to be impeached. “I don’t think so because there’s no crime,” he said.

Mueller made clear that his team never considered indicting Trump because the Justice Department prohibits the prosecution of a sitting president. He and others have indicated that the next move, if any, is up to Congress, which has the power of impeachment. Trump has blocked House committees’ subpoenas and other efforts to dig into the Trump-Russia issue, insisting Mueller’s report has settled everything.

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Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Chad Day, Mike Balsamo, Mary Clare Jalonick and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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Trump vetoes Congressional attempt to get U.S. out of Yemen

Site of an airstrike by Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa, Yemen. President Donald Trump on Tuesday vetoed a bill passed by Congress to end U.S. military assistance in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)

President Donald Trump vetoed a resolution passed by Congress to end U.S. military assistance in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.

The veto — the second in Trump’s presidency — was expected, and Congress lacks the votes to override it. But passing the never-before-used war powers resolution was viewed as a milestone for lawmakers, who have shown a renewed willingness to assert their war-making authority after letting it atrophy for decades under presidents from both parties.

“This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future,” Trump wrote in explaining his Tuesday veto.

Congress has grown uneasy with Trump’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia as he tries to further isolate Iran, a regional rival.

Many lawmakers also criticized the president for not condemning Saudi Arabia for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi who lived in the United States and had written critically about the kingdom. Khashoggi went into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October and never came out. Intelligence agencies said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in the killing.

The U.S. provides billions of dollars of arms to the Saudi-led coalition fighting against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen. Members of Congress have expressed concern about the thousands of civilians killed in coalition airstrikes since the conflict began in 2014. The fighting in the Arab world’s poorest country also has left millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and has pushed the country to the brink of famine.

Trump said the measure was unnecessary because except for counterterrorism operations against Islamic State militants and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the United States is not engaged in hostilities in or affecting Yemen.

He said there were no U.S. military personnel in Yemen accompanying the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthis, although he acknowledged that the U.S. has provided limited support to the coalition, including intelligence sharing, logistics support, and — until recently — in-flight refueling of non-U.S. aircraft.

The president also said that the measure would harm bilateral relations and interferes with his constitutional power as commander in chief.

He said the U.S. is providing the support to protect the safety of more than 80,000 Americans who live in certain areas of the coalition countries subject to Houthi attacks from Yemen.

“Houthis, supported by Iran, have used missiles, armed drones and explosive boats to attack civilian and military targets in those coalition countries, including areas frequented by American citizens, such as the airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,” Trump said. “In addition, the conflict in Yemen represents a ‘cheap’ and inexpensive way for Iran to cause trouble for the United States and for our ally, Saudi Arabia.”

House approval of the resolution came earlier this month on a 247-175 vote. The Senate vote last month was 54-46.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Tuesday night saying: “The conflict in Yemen is a horrific humanitarian crisis that challenges the conscience of the entire world. Yet the President has cynically chosen to contravene a bipartisan, bicameral vote of the Congress and perpetuate America’s shameful involvement in this heartbreaking crisis.”

Pelosi added: “This conflict must end, now. The House of Representatives calls on the President to put peace before politics, and work with us to advance an enduring solution to end this crisis and save lives.”

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said Trump’s veto “shows the world he is determined to keep aiding a Saudi-backed war that has killed thousands of civilians and pushed millions more to the brink of starvation.”

Kaine accused Trump of turning a blind eye to Khashoggi’s killing and the jailing of women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia.

“I hope my colleagues will show we won’t tolerate the Trump administration’s deference to Saudi Arabia at the expense of American security interests by voting to override this veto,” Kaine said.

The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, acknowledged the dire situation in Yemen for civilians, but spoke out in opposition to the measure when it was passed. McCaul said it was an abuse of the War Powers Resolution and predicted it could disrupt U.S. security cooperation agreements with more than 100 countries.

David Miliband, President of the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian aid group, said: “This veto by President Trump is morally wrong and strategically wrongheaded. It sets back the hopes for respite for the Yemeni people, and leaves the U.S. upholding a failed strategy.”

Trump issued his first veto last month on legislation related to immigration. Trump had declared a national emergency so he could use more money to construct a border wall. Congress voted to block the emergency declaration and Trump vetoed that measure.

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Trump to promote ‘America first,’ himself in State of Union

President Donald Trump n the Cabinet Room of the White House. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

For all of President Donald Trump’s talk about “America first,” the next two years of his presidency could shine a sharp spotlight on America abroad.

His State of the Union address next week will be dissected for clues on how he’ll deal with a full plate of foreign policy challenges. His words will serve as fodder for ongoing partisan debate about whether his decisions will have passing or long-lasting effects on the world.

Will he pull troops from Afghanistan? Can he coax North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program? What will America’s future role be in Syria? What about U.S. power struggles with China, Russia and Iran, instability in the Middle East and U.S. relations with European allies?

“There is so much polarization around this whole discussion of Trump — pro-Trump, anti-Trump — that it’s hard to make sweeping declarations about the success or failure of Trump’s foreign policy,” said John Hannah, who has held foreign policy posts in both Democratic and Republican administrations.

“There’s been some good and some bad, but also a risk that the president’s own unpredictability is undercutting some of his important achievements,” said Hannah, who is now with the nonpartisan Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Trump campaigned on a nationalist platform he calls “America first,” telling voters it was time to “shake the rust off” conventional U.S. foreign policy and make addressing problems at home the top priority. His administration has torn up multilateral treaties, has focused more squarely on the threat from China — its trade policies and theft of U.S. intellectual property — and wants to pull America out of what Trump calls “endless wars.”

Nobody seemed fully prepared, though, for Trump’s bull-in-a-china-shop approach to foreign relations — picking fights with allies, embracing Russia, announcing via Twitter an abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria and rattling nuclear sabers with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

At the halfway mark of his term, Trump will use his address to Congress next week to talk about progress in fighting Islamic State militants, who have suffered a significant loss of real estate in Syria through pressure from the U.S. and its partners, though intelligence officials say the threat has not been extinguished.

He’s expected to boast of opening trade talks with China and denuclearization talks with North Korea although neither deal has yet been reached, take credit for a hard-line stance against Iran through economic sanctions and make a case for ending or reducing U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

He’ll award himself high marks on foreign policy and tease new action to come.

“We’re not going to be leading from behind anymore,” he told reporters this week.

His critics, however, see “America first” as a slogan that translates to “America alone.” They deplore his distaste for multilateral organizations — Trump has withdrawn from the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, the U.N.’s top human rights and educational agencies, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. On Friday, Trump said the U.S. is pulling out of an arms control treaty with Russia.

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls “America first” a mix of xenophobia and isolationism that has meant abandoning U.S. values, insulting partners, ignoring human rights and the rule of law, and taking a 19th-century view of the world.

“I really struggle to find the basis under which this ‘America first’ policy has advanced America’s interests abroad,” Menendez said. “I think, at this point, things can be reversed, but the longer his policy gets pursued, the more permanent the damage will be.”

Kenneth Pollack, a Mideast scholar at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, calls “America first” a “bumper sticker that obviously appealed to many people.” But he’s worried about the long-term effects of it, especially the president’s move to exit Syria.

Foreign policy experts write off some of Trump’s actions as theatrics, but the pullout in Syria, many think, is a gift to Russia and Iran. They say it reduces U.S. influence in neighboring Iraq, leaves room for Islamic State militants to regroup and allows Iran to consolidate control in the region and threaten its archrival, Israel.

“He’s walked away from Syria, which has just been catastrophic in terms of our relationships with our allies,” Pollack said.

Some foreign policy experts argue that giving Iran room to further entrench itself in Syria actually undercuts Trump’s own maximum pressure campaign on Tehran.

In May, he pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear pact the Obama administration and U.S. partners negotiated with Iran. Under the deal, Iran agreed to rein in — but not give up forever — its nuclear weapons program in exchange for an easing of economic sanctions.

Since then, Trump has ramped up sanctions on Iran while other parties in the deal — China, France, Germany, Russia and Britain — try to do business with Iran without running afoul of U.S. sanctions.

“The Iranians haven’t restarted their nuclear program, and U.S. relations with Russia, Europe and China haven’t ruptured — all of that’s true,” said Pollack, a former CIA analyst and National Security Council official. “But we haven’t necessarily gotten anything from pulling out of the deal either.

“The way that Trump has been handling Iran, I could see scenarios where we could get into a war with Iran,” he said.

When Trump delivered his last State of the Union, the world was worried that the president and North Korea’s Kim were arguing about who had the bigger nuclear button on their desk. Then in mid-2018, all the warmongering stopped. Trump held a historic summit with Kim in Singapore, declared the communist nation was no longer a nuclear threat and said the two leaders “fell in love.”

But while there is no concrete denuclearization deal yet, Trump is getting ready to go to Asia for a second summit with Kim in coming weeks, and he may use Tuesday’s speech to announce the summit date and place.

Since Trump’s abrupt decision to exit Syria, there has been growing fear that Trump will yank troops from Afghanistan, too, tapping into rising public support for ending the 17-year-old war. As the Trump administration negotiates with the Taliban, 14,000 U.S. troops are still training and assisting Afghan forces and fighting terrorist networks to prevent the country from being a staging area for attacks on the West.

At the same time that Trump is derided for insulting allies, he is credited with working alongside them and got bipartisan support this month when he took a tough stand against Venezuela’s embattled, socialist president Nicolas Maduro.

“With Venezuela, he’s not going it alone,” said Jason Marczak, director of the Atlantic Council’s Latin America center.

Working with partners, then demeaning America’s best friends is just one example of Trump’s often contradictory style on the international stage.

While he stood firm against Maduro in Venezuela, he has cozied up to other leaders, including Russia President Vladimir Putin and China President Xi Jinping — two countries that the U.S. will be in a power struggle with for years to come.

He says he gets along great with Xi, but the two are locked in a trade war. Trump says he’s been tough on Russia, yet he was harshly criticized in Helsinki for not publicly denouncing Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election and appearing to accept Putin’s denials of any meddling.

He said the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey was heinous. But while the U.S. sanctioned 17 Saudis believed to have been complicit, Trump would not impose harsher penalties on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, citing the importance of economic and other U.S. cooperation with the Gulf ally.

“My policy is very simple,” he said. “America first.”

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Trump doubts budget deal is possible

A migrant sits with his children as they wait to hear if their number is called to apply for asylum in the United States, at the border, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, in Tijuana, Mexico. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

President Donald Trump said the odds congressional negotiators will craft a deal to end his border wall standoff with Congress are “less than 50-50.”

As hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers prepared to return to work, Trump told The Wall Street Journal that he doesn’t think the negotiators will strike a deal that he’d accept. He pledged to build a wall anyway using his executive powers to declare a national emergency if necessary.

“I personally think it’s less than 50-50, but you have a lot of very good people on that board,” Trump said in an interview Sunday with the newspaper.

The president was referring to a bipartisan committee of House and Senate lawmakers that will consider border spending as part of the legislative process.

The president’s standoff with Democrats on Capitol Hill is far from over and the clock is ticking. The spending bill Trump signed on Friday to temporarily end the partial government shutdown funds the shuttered agencies only until Feb. 15.

It’s unclear if the Democrats will budge. Trump seemed girded for battle over the weekend, sending out a series of online messages that foreshadowed the upcoming fight with lawmakers. “BUILD A WALL & CRIME WILL FALL!” he tweeted.

Is Trump prepared to shut down the government again in three weeks?

“Yeah, I think he actually is,” acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said. “He doesn’t want to shut the government down, let’s make that very clear. He doesn’t want to declare a national emergency.”

But Mulvaney said that at “the end of the day, the president’s commitment is to defend the nation and he will do it with or without Congress.”

The linchpin in the standoff is Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for his prized wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, a project Democrats consider an ineffective, wasteful monument to a ridiculous Trump campaign promise.

Asked if he’d willing to accept less than $5.7 billion to build a barrier on the southern border, Trump replied: “I doubt it.” He added: “I have to do it right.”

He also said he’d be wary of any proposed deal that exchanged funds for a wall for broad immigration reform. And when asked if he would agree to citizenship for immigrants who were illegally brought into the U.S. as children, he again replied, “I doubt it.”

California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the leading Republican in the House, said Democrats have funded border barriers in the past and are refusing this time simply because Trump is asking for it.

“The president is the only one who has been reasonable in these negotiations,” he said.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, a member of the Democratic leadership in the House, said his colleagues are looking for “evidence-based” legislation.

“Shutdowns are not legitimate negotiating tactics when there’s a public policy disagreement between two branches of government,” he said.

Jeffries said that Democrats are willing to invest in additional infrastructure, especially at legal ports of entry where the majority of drugs come into the country.

“We’re willing to invest in personnel. We’re willing to invest in additional technology. … In the past, we have supported enhanced fencing and I think that’s something that’s reasonable that should be on the table,” he said.

Trump has asserted there is a “crisis” at the southern border requiring a wall, blaming previous presidents and Congress for failing to overhaul an immigration system that has allowed millions of people to live in the U.S. illegally.

Last month, he put that number at 35 million, while on Sunday he pegged it at 25.7 million-plus — figures offered without evidence. “I’m not exactly sure where the president got that number this morning,” Mulvaney said.

Both are higher than government and private estimates.

His homeland security chief cited “somewhere” between 11 million and 22 million last month. In November, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center reported 10.7 million in 2016 — the lowest in a decade.

The president also tweeted Sunday that the cost of illegal immigration so far this year was nearly $19 billion; he didn’t cite a source.

Compare that with research in 2017 from a conservative group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for less immigration: $135 billion a year or about $11.25 billion a month — a figure that included health care and education, plus money spent on immigration enforcement.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. said that he thinks a compromise is possible.

“The president went from talking about a wall along the entire southern border at one point during the campaign … to let’s have barriers where they work and let’s have something else where barriers wouldn’t work as well,” Blunt said.

The partial federal shutdown ended Friday when Trump gave in to mounting pressure, retreating from his demand that Congress commit to the border wall funding before federal agencies could resume work. The bill he signed did not provide the money Trump wanted for a barrier, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called “immoral” and has insisted Congress will not finance.

Mulvaney said Trump agreed to temporarily end the shutdown because some Democrats have stepped forward, publicly and privately, to say they agree with Trump’s plan to better secure the border.

Mulvaney said they told Trump they couldn’t split with Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, and work with the White House if the government remained closed.

“Everybody wants to look at this and say the president lost,” Mulvaney said. “We’re still in the middle of negotiations.”

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