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    Seven Democratic presidential candidates will stand on stage this week in Los Angeles, a pool of survivors who have withstood almost a year on the campaign trail, sustained attacks from rivals in both parties, and five rounds of high-pressure debates. And while the field has been effectively cut down from more than 20 in the span of six months, a deepening sense of volatility is settling over the Democratic primary on the eve of the sixth and final debate of 2019. The remaining candidates, those in the debate and some trying to compete from outside, are grappling with unprecedented distraction from Washington, questions about their core principles and new signs that the party's energized factions are turning against each other. Lest there be any doubt about the level of turbulence in the race, it's unclear whether Thursday's debate will happen at all given an unsettled labor union dispute that might require participants to cross a picket line. All seven candidates have said they would not do so. The Democratic dilemma is perhaps best personified by Elizabeth Warren, whose progressive campaign surged through the late summer and fall but is suddenly struggling under the weight of nagging questions about her health care plan, her ability to compete against President Donald Trump and her very authenticity as a candidate. Boyd Brown, a South Carolina-based Democratic strategist who recently decided to back Joe Biden only after his preferred candidate, Beto O'Rourke, was forced from the race, likened Warren's position to that of someone falling down a mountain grasping for anything to slow her descent. 'She's got real problems,' Brown said. Warren has avoided conflict with her Democratic rivals for much of the year, but she has emerged as the chief antagonist of the leading candidates in the so-called moderate lane, former Vice President Joe Biden and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. Seven weeks before Iowa's Feb. 3 caucus, the Massachusetts senator is attacking both men with increasing frequency for being too willing to embrace Republican ideas and too cozy with wealthy donors. Those close to Warren hope the strategy will allow her to shift the conversation away from her own health care struggles back to her signature wealth tax and focus on corruption. Yet she could not escape questions about her evolving position on Medicare for All as she campaigned in Iowa over the weekend. When asked about health care, Warren told a crowd of roughly 180 people in the Mississippi River town of Clinton, Iowa, about a plan to expand insurance coverage without immediately moving to a universal, government-run system. She promised that those who wanted government health insurance could buy it before finally concluding, “At the end of my first term, we’ll vote on Medicare for All.” The next question came from a man who said he was on Medicare and mostly happy about it, but had lingering issues. “You call it Medicare for All and it’s better. Can’t you change the name?” he asked of her proposal. “I like your suggestion,” Warren responded, in a tone suggesting she wasn't entirely joking. “Let’s call it health care for everybody.” She later added, “Let’s call it better than Medicare for All. I’m in.” Even entertaining a name change seemed to mark yet another shift for Warren, who first co-sponsored Medicare for All in 2017, but began pivoting away from the proposal after experts questioned the plan she released in October to pay for it without raising middle-class taxes. She subsequently released a “transition plan” promising to get Medicare for All approved by Congress by the end of her third year as president while relying on existing insurance plans, including those established by Obamacare, to expand health coverage in the interim. Warren's Democratic critics suggest her evolution on the issue has stalled her momentum because it goes beyond a policy dispute and raises broader questions about what may be the most important personal quality in politics: authenticity. Indeed, Buttigieg, Biden and other rivals have seized on her shifts. Even Bernie Sanders, Warren’s progressive ally and Medicare for All's author, seemed to pile on by promising to send a full bill to Congress implementing the measure during the first week of his administration. Without naming any of his rivals, Biden adviser Symone Sanders said candidates would not succeed in shifting the conversation away from health care this week even if they wanted to. She said to expect another “robust exchange” on the issue, which “is not going away and for good reason, because it is an issue that in 2018 Democrats ran on and won.” Tough questions for Warren haven't just come from her rivals. Since Thanksgiving, she's shortened her typically 30-minute and more stump speech to around 10 minutes and used the extra time to take more audience questions — only to be forced further on the defensive about health care. Barton Wright, a 69-year-old technical writer, pressed Warren on Medicare for All at a recent event in Rochester, New Hampshire, noting after the event that he wants a deeper explanation. 'It just sounds awful,' Wright said. 'It sounds ‘like Hemlock for All’ for people who don't like Medicare. And that's a lot of people.' Even after questioning Warren, however, Wright said he was helping her campaign and still plans to vote for her. Meanwhile, Buttigieg, the surprise member of the top-tier, is grappling with issues of his own that expose another fissure between the moderate and progressive wings of the party. Protesters aligned with Warren and Sanders tracked him across New York City last week banging pots and pans and calling him “Wall Street Pete” as he continued his aggressive courtship of wealthy donors. The 37-year-old seemed genuinely confused by the protests, which he was forced to acknowledge during at least one Manhattan fundraiser because the noise outside was so loud. As he faced supporters in Seattle over the weekend, Buttigieg acknowledged that the intra-party attacks will almost certainly continue, although he tried to downplay the intensity of the infighting. 'There’s gonna have to be some fighting,” Buttigieg said, “but I’m never gonna let us get to where it feels like the fight is the point.” The fighting is almost certain to be on display at Thursday night's debate, especially among the four candidates in the top-tier: Biden, Buttigieg, Sanders and Warren. The three others on stage — Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, billionaire activist Tom Steyer and entrepreneur Andrew Yang — only narrowly hit the polling threshold needed to qualify and have an obvious incentive to make waves of their own as well. Voters don't want a public fight, even if they sense one is coming. Steve Wehling, a 43-year-old University of Iowa employee, said he doesn’t like Democrats feuding with each other, but he won’t hold it against Warren or anyone else. He said he understands that, with the caucuses looming, “all of the campaigns are really starting to put the squeeze on.” “Voters turn on the debates and still see 10 people on stage and I think a lot would of them would like to see the field narrowed down,” said Wehling, who plans to vote for Sanders and says Warren is his second choice. “The pressure is really on.' ___ Peoples reported in New York. Associated Press writer Hunter Woodall in Rochester, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.
  • Take Bernie out to the ball game? Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate, is aggressively opposing a Major League Baseball plan to cut 42 minor league teams across the country after 2020. Among the targeted are the Vermont Lake Monsters, the Single-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics in his hometown, Burlington. Defending low-profile ball clubs in far-flung places more fervently than anyone in the crowded Democratic presidential field allows Sanders to potentially win over a largely untapped 2020 constituency: baseball fans. Sanders briefly took batting practice Sunday on an indoor turf field as representatives from three small-town Iowa teams looked on: the Quad City River Bandits, the Clinton LumberKings and the Burlington Bees, the local club in this town on the Mississippi River. In August, Sanders played softball with reporters on the state’s corn field-ringed “Field of Dreams,” the set of the Hollywood hit of the same name. And he has tapped a former Harvard second baseman, Faiz Shakir, to run his campaign. Sanders shed his signature suit jacket to take swings in a sweater over a dress shirt. With a staff member slow-pitching, the senator dribbled a few grounders to his left, then lifted a ball in the air in the same direction, before joking that he was aiming another grounder off his bat at CNN reporter who should have dived to stop it. After about six hits, he dropped the bat and said “OK, that's it.” “For all the major league scouts, if I don't make it to the presidency, I'm available,' Sanders joked. Taking the diamond demonstrated physical stamina for a 78-year-old who recently had a heart attack, while also letting Sanders press a larger political point about rich owners putting profits ahead of the national pastime. But it also shows off a softer side of someone most known to supporters and detractors alike for being a democratic socialist and backing progressive policy proposals such as “Medicare for All.” “The guys who own the teams are billionaires,'' Sanders said told The Associated Press interview earlier this week, adding that baseball ``is not an institution that is hurting financially. And you can see that by, just in the last few weeks, seeing major league teams signing star baseball players for as much (as) $324 million.” That refers to the New York Yankees recently signing free-agent pitcher Gerrit Cole to a reported 9-year, $324 million contract. MLB is negotiating a new agreement with the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the governing body of the minors. The initial contraction proposal primarily would impact lower-level teams in short-season leagues. Sanders met last month with Commissioner Rob Manfred to decry the plan and the senator sent him a letter Saturday, arguing that baseball “has to be considered more than just the bottom line.” “Baseball is not just another business,” Sanders said during the interview. “There’s a reason the president of the United States throws out the first pitch of the season, why baseball is considered a national pastime.” After the initial Sanders-Manfred meeting, MLB issued a statement saying it “understands that we have an obligation to local communities to ensure that public money spent on minor league stadiums is done so prudently and for the benefit of all citizens.' But it added: “MLB also must ensure that minor league players have safe playing facilities suitable for the development of professional baseball players, are not subjected to unreasonable travel demands, are provided with compensation and working conditions appropriate for elite athletes, and have a realistic opportunity of making it to the major leagues.” Some minor league players have filed a federal class-action suit charging that many players earn less than $7,500 per year, violating minimum wage laws. More than 100 members of Congress from both parties have signed a separate letter to Manfred opposing shutting down minor league teams. So far, though, Sanders is alone among the Democratic presidential hopefuls loudly opposing the idea. “He’s the only one I hear talking about it,” said J.D. Scholten, who pitched professionally in Canada and for Iowa’s independent Sioux City Explorers. Scholten challenged longtime Republican Rep. Steve King in 2018 and is trying again to unseat him. “I think it kind of fits into his overall message of, right now, a lot of the way our lives are being shaped by wealthy people who are dictating a lot of these things at the top, and the people at the bottom are being left behind,” said Scholten, who also played basketball this past week with another White House hopeful, businessman Andrew Yang. Sanders said before Sunday's batting practice that Congress could intervene if baseball goes through with its contraction plan. He noted the sport's antitrust exemption and the public dollars some teams have received to build stadiums, and cited lucrative television contracts that he said are “sometimes designed in unusual ways.' “So I think there is a lot Congress can do to protect baseball for ordinary Americans and I think that is what you're going to see being done in a bipartisan matter,' Sanders said. “I hope it doesn't have to come to that.' Scholten said he tells crowds at town halls while campaigning that he’ll answer questions about anything, including baseball. “My baseball background gets talked about quite a lot. I’m actually kind of surprised. I haven’t played in 10 years, was a paralegal for a decade and nobody talks about that,” Scholten joked. Sanders’ baseball ties predate his 2020 campaign. He visited with the Los Angeles Dodgers during spring training in 2018 and, as he was recovering at home following his Oct. 1 heart attack, Sanders' campaign released video of the candidate batting balls around his backyard. The senator grew up loving the Brooklyn Dodgers until they moved to Los Angeles when he was 16. He now roots for the Boston Red Sox, like a lot of New Englanders. While running for the first elected office he won, mayor of Burlington in 1981, Sanders says he thinks he remembers campaigning on landing a minor league team. He says “we worked extremely hard” to accomplish just that.- bringing a Cincinnati Reds affiliate to town three years later. “Everybody found it amusing because the name was the Vermont Reds,” Sanders, noting his proud leftist streak, chuckled. ___ Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly `` Ground Game ’’ politics podcast ___ This story has been corrected to reflect that Sanders' campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, played baseball at Harvard, not Yale.
  • Bernie Sanders retracted his endorsement for online news personality Cenk Uygur in a California congressional race on Friday after coming under fire from supporters for backing someone who had made demeaning and controversial comments about women, Muslims and African Americans. “I hear my supporters who were frustrated and understand their concerns. Cenk today said he is rejecting all endorsements for his campaign and I retract my endorsement,” Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, said in a tweet. The Vermont senator endorsed Uygur the day before in the special election to replace former California Rep. Katie Hill. Uygur is facing off against at least nine other candidates, four of whom are Democrats. Uygur’s online news and commentary show, “The Young Turks,” has a strong progressive following, and Sanders had originally said the host was “a voice that we desperately need in Congress.” After Sanders went public with his endorsement, however, he faced backlash from progressives online who pointed to Uygur’s past controversial comments and questioned why Sanders was backing him. In one characteristic blog post, from 2000, Uygur wrote that “obviously, the genes of women are flawed. They are poorly designed creatures who do not want to have sex nearly as often as needed for the human race to get along peaceably and fruitfully.” Uygur also came under fire for using the N-word on his show multiple times; he acknowledged this week that “The Young Turks' had a policy of using the N-word when quoting racists as a means of mocking them but stopped after complaints. In 2012, he said orthodox Jews and Muslims are teaching their children things that are “Looney Tunes.” Before Sanders retracted his support, Uygur announced he would not accept any endorsements. In a statement, he thanked Sanders and others for supporting him because “their stance took real courage in the face of the corporate media and Democratic establishment onslaught.” But he said he had decided not to accept endorsements because “I will not be beholden to corporations, lobbyists or special interest groups, and I will not stand by while those groups attack my political allies.” The primary is scheduled for March 3. The general election for the 25th Congressional District, covering parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, is May 12.
  • Melania Trump on Friday appeared to condone her husband's criticism of 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, saying through a spokeswoman that her 13-year-old son, Barron, is in a different category than the teenage climate activist “who travels the globe giving speeches.” “He is a 13-year-old who wants and deserves privacy,” spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in an emailed statement the day after President Donald Trump lashed out at Thunberg because Time magazine had named her “Person of the Year.” The first lady's apparent acceptance of her husband's actions stood in contrast to the work she's doing through her “Be Best” initiative to combat online bullying and teach children to be kind. The president tweeted Thursday that “Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend!” He said it was “ridiculous” that Time had chosen her for the honor. Trump mocked the teenage activist, who has Asperger's syndrome, a week after the first lady tweeted angrily at Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan for mentioning Barron during her testimony as a Democratic witness at a House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing. “A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics. Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it,” Mrs. Trump tweeted. At one point during her testimony, Karlan said that while Trump can “name his son Barron, he can't make him a baron.” Karlan was trying to make a point that Trump is a president and not a king. At the end of the hearing, Karlan apologized for the comment. Grisham said the first lady will continue to use “Be Best' to help children. “It is no secret that the president and first lady often communicate differently — as most married couples do,” Grisham said. Former first lady Michelle Obama encouraged Thunberg, saying, “don't let anyone dim your light,” Mrs. Obama wrote on Twitter from Vietnam, where she was traveling this week. “Like the girls I've met in Vietnam and all over the world, you have so much to offer us all,' she wrote. “Ignore the doubters and know that millions of people are cheering you on.” ___ Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap
  • As a member of Houston’s pioneering rap group The Geto Boyz, Brad Jordan co-wrote the early 1990s hip-hop anthem “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.” Now, the 49-year-old rapper better known as Scarface is working to ensure Houston voters that no, their minds are not playing tricks on them: He is running for City Council, and he's a serious candidate. Jordan says he knows his celebrity carried him into a run-off election slated for Saturday. But he’s hoping he can persuade the voters who got him there to turn out again so he can represent the council's District D. “You can sit back and point out the problems or you can address them and bring solutions to the table,” Jordan said Tuesday, referring to chronic poverty and crime that afflicts his neighborhood. With more than 200,000 residents, District D stretches into the south and southeast sides of Houston. 2017 data compiled by the current city council member, Dwight Boykins, says African Americans make up 53% percent of the district. Thirty percent of the population earns less than $25,000 a year, and although that figure has risen over the past two decades, it's still a plurality. While campaigning, voters ask him what he plans to do if he's elected, but many can’t help themselves and ask to take a smartphone photo with him. Though his name recognition is his chief asset in his mostly African American district, Jordan insists that his Scarface persona is part of his past, not his future. Jordan said because of his success as a recording artist it opened up paths to becoming a producer, author and businessman. Political observers note that two big obstacles lie in Jordan’s path to getting elected. “Voter turnout for run-offs is usually low,” said Mark Jones, a political science fellow at the Baker Institute at Rice University. Michael Adams, a political scientist at Texas Southern University, a historically black college that is in the district Jordan wants to represent, says the rapper also has to convince the most dependable voting bloc in his neighborhood to vote for him — black women over 60. “He needs to improve voter turnout from his home ground in subdivisions like Sunnyside,“ Adams said. “Older African Americans may be not swayed by the notion a hip-hop artist can be in public office.” Jordan’s opponent, Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, may be more to such voters' liking. “My belief is that City Council is not a training ground, it’s a proving ground. I’ve already proven my record,” said Evans-Shabazz. The 66-year-old sits on the Houston Community College Board of Trustees and the executive committee of the local NAACP, and she worked for the Houston Independent School District as an education evaluation specialist. “I know she’ll get our potholes filled, our ditches dug out and more police in the neighborhood,” 81-year-old Lula Wilson said outside of the Sunnyside Multi-Service Center, which is a polling place. Wilson, clad in an Evans-Shabazz campaign T-shirt, said her preferred candidate has “always had a seat at the table.” But Gerry Monroe said Jordan's political outsider status is what attracted him to campaign for the rapper. “We have a serious gang issue in District D,” Monroe said this week outside of the Sunnyside center. As he spoke, a group of teenage boys down the street fought in a brawl that was quickly broken up when adults arrived. “Who can go into one of these rough gang infested neighborhoods and have a conversation with gang members to put guns down? Carolyn (Evans-)Shabazz or Brad Jordan? I’m gonna ride with Brad because I’ve seen him do it,” Monroe said. The weekend before the run-off, the two candidates were busy hitting up the district’s churches, temples and mosques, eager to be seen among the faithful and hoping turnout for the mayor’s race can drive their numbers, too. There have also been lighter campaign moments — Evans-Shabazz’s husband, upon seeing his wife’s opponent, also asked for a selfie. “Everything’s cordial, “ Jordan said.
  • Ten former NFL players were charged in a multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud the league’s health care benefit program by submitting false claims for medical equipment, including devices used on horses, the Justice Department said Thursday. The players were charged in two separate indictments filed in federal court in Kentucky, accusing them of conspiracy, wire fraud and healthcare fraud. Prosecutors allege they submitted nearly $4 million in phony claims, leading to payouts of about $3.4 million between June 2017 and December 2018. Those charged include five former players on the Washington Redskins, including Clinton Portis and Carlos Rogers. Prosecutors allege the players targeted the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan, which was established as part of a collective bargaining agreement in 2006. It provides tax-free reimbursement of out-of-pocket medical care expenses that were not covered by insurance and that were incurred by former players, their spouses and dependents. “As outlined in the indictments, a group of former players brazenly defrauded the plan by seeking reimbursements for expensive medical equipment that they never purchased,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski, who leads the Justice Department’s criminal division. The players claimed to have purchased hyperbaric oxygen chambers, ultrasound machines and electromagnetic therapy devices that were designed to be used on horses, he said. Prosecutors say the group’s alleged ringleaders, Robert McCune and Correll Buckhalter — who they allege broke off to create his own similar ring — would recruit former players by offering to submit fake claims to the health care plan. The ringleaders would then demand thousands of dollars in kickbacks for each fake claim, prosecutors allege. The suspects are accused of fabricating letters from health care providers about using the medical equipment, fabricating prescriptions that were purportedly signed by healthcare providers and creating fake invoices from medical equipment companies in an effort to prove the equipment was purchased, according to court documents. In reality, they had never purchased or received the medical equipment, prosecutors said. Investigators believe the defendants had forged the prescriptions and authorization letters and uncovered no evidence that any doctors were complicit in the scheme, Benczkowski said. After the phony claims were submitted, the former players would receive reimbursement checks and pay a kickback to the ringleaders and recruiters, the indictments charge. Prosecutors moved to bring charges, in part because the scheme put the health care plan’s tax-exempt status at risk, which could’ve forced other former players using the plan legitimately to pay more, Benczkowski said. Four of the suspects, McCune, Rogers, John Eubanks and Ceandris Brown, were arrested Thursday morning by the FBI. Six others had agreed to surrender to authorities, the Justice Department said. They are: James Butler, Fredrick Bennett, Etric Pruitt, Tamarick Vanover, Portis and Buckhalter. The Justice Department has also filed court papers in Kentucky noting that it plans to file charges against two other players as well, including Joe Horn, a four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver for the New Orleans Saints, and Donald “Reche” Caldwell. The investigation was continuing, but because the plan involves only former players prosecutors do not expect any current NFL players to face charges, Benczkowski said. Portis’ lawyer, Mark Dycio, said his client “had no knowledge that his participation in what he believed to be an NFL sanctioned medical reimbursement insurance program was illegal.” “He is completely taken aback by the indictment and will move forward with the process of clearing his good name and those of his fellow NFL alumni,” Dycio said.
  • President Donald Trump lashed out at 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg on Thursday, a day after she was named by Time as its Person of the Year, calling her selection “ridiculous.' The Swedish teenager has become a symbol of a growing movement of young climate activists after leading weekly school strikes in her country that inspired similar actions in about 100 cities worldwide. She has drawn large crowds with her fiery appearances at protests and conferences over the past year and a half. In a Thursday morning tweet, Trump said, “Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend!” He added: “Chill Greta, Chill!” Thunberg responded by changing her Twitter profile bio to read: “A teenager working on her anger management problem. Currently chilling and watching a good old fashioned movie with a friend.” She has been outspoken about her diagnosis with Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder associated with high intelligence and impaired social skills. “I have Aspergers and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm,' she tweeted this year. 'And - given the right circumstances- being different is a superpower.” Former Secretary of State John Kerry, attending the U.N. climate talks in Madrid, said in an AP interview that Trump's comments were “the most disgraceful, bullying, unpresidential, almost cowardly thing to do. And he should be ashamed of himself. But he knows no shame.” It's not the first time Trump has complained after not being recognized for his influence. In 2015, Trump attacked German Chancellor Angela Merkel for “ruining Germany” after she was named Person of the Year, when he was listed as a runner-up. Trump is the second world leader to take aim at Thunberg this week. Her concern over the slayings of indigenous Brazilians in the Amazon drew a harsh rebuke from Brazil's president on Tuesday. “Greta said that the Indians died because they were defending the Amazon,” Jair Bolsonaro said. “It’s impressive that the press is giving space to a brat like that,” he added, using the Portuguese word ”pirralha.” Thunberg responded by changing her bio on Twitter, where she has over 3 million followers, to say “Pirralha.” ___ AP Writers Frank Jordans and Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.
  • President Donald Trump is a master at putting words in the mouths of other people. It's one of his favorite forms of mockery and self-aggrandizement. He does not like it when a Democrat does the same, at his expense. For weeks now, Trump has directed blistering criticism at Rep. Adam Schiff for giving an exaggerated account of what the president said in his July 25 phone call with Ukraine's leader, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Trump has gone so far as to say Schiff's riff shows the impeachment case is invalid. When it comes to inventing dialogue, Schiff stepped somewhat gingerly on to Trump's turf. He prefaced and concluded his account at a House Intelligence Committee hearing by saying he was giving the “essence” of what Trump said on the phone call and describing its “sum” and “character,” with the “rambling” parts skipped. It was an invitation not to take him literally. Moreover, most of his details were accurate. Contrast that with Trump slipping into the supposed voices of the “lovers,” as he likes to call two FBI employees who exchanged text messages critical of the president and indeed had an affair. Here's Trump on Tuesday night at a rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania, as he entertained his supporters on the subject of Lisa Page and Peter Strzok: 'Lisa, please, tell me you love me. Lisa please. I love you like I've never loved anyone.' He went on to float the baseless rumor that one took a restraining order out on the other. And here's Trump at a Minneapolis rally Oct. 10: “Oh, I love you so much. I love you, Peter. I love you, too, Lisa. Lisa, I love you. Lisa, Lisa, oh God, I love you, Lisa.” That prompted Page to break months of silence. “Honestly, his demeaning fake orgasm was really the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she told The Daily Beast. When Christine Blasey Ford testified that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in their youth but she could not recall certain details, Trump turned the episode into an entertainment set-piece for a Mississippi rally in October 2018: “How did you get home? I don't remember. How did you get there? I don't remember. Where is the place? I don't remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.’” During the campaign, Trump shocked many people and delighted supporters by mimicking a reporter whose recollection and reporting from Sept. 11, 2001, did not support Trump's claims that Muslims celebrated on U.S. streets as the World Trade Center towers collapsed from the terrorist attack. “The poor guy, you ought to see this guy,” Trump said of Serge Kovaleski of The New York Times, jerking his arms in a representation of the reporter's joint disability and misquoting him in a tone of ridicule: “Uh, I don’t know what I said. I don’t remember!” Trump also makes up quotes from people to convey their admiration of him or to fit into the story he wants to tell. So it was on Saturday when Trump offered an extended and fantastical account of conversations with his ambassador to Israel and world leaders about his decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a step popular with many Israelis, unpopular with many Arabs and provocative on the world stage. At an American-Israeli conference, he put words in the mouths of monarchs and presidents as he pretended that he was too busy to take calls from leaders who objected to the embassy's relocation and didn't call them back until it was too late. “So I call: 'Hi, King. What's up? What's happening?' He said, 'I wanted to tell you I didn't like you doing that with Israel.' 'Oh, man! I wish I called you back a little sooner. I'm sorry.'' He said there were about 40 such calls. Meantime Trump tweets insults at “lowlife” Schiff, “a corrupt politician who fraudulently made up what I said on the ‘call’' in a “brazen and unlawful act.' This attack is coupled with a consequential falsehood. Trump says he was forced to release the rough White House transcript of his phone call because Schiff had so thoroughly misrepresented it that he had to set the story straight. But the White House account became public a day before the Schiff riff. Anyone who read the rough transcript could see that the chairman, as he indicated to the committee, was taking liberties with what the public was seeing for itself. Here are parts Schiff got right in voicing “the essence of what the president communicates': SCHIFF, mimicking Trump's remark to Zelenskiy: “We've been very good to your country.” TRUMP, in actual White House summary: “I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine.” SCHIFF: “But you know what? I don't see much reciprocity here.” TRUMP: “I wouldn't say that it's reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good but the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine.” SCHIFF: “I have a favor I want from you, though.” TRUMP: “I would like you to do us a favor, though.” SCHIFF: “I’m going to put you in touch with people, not just any people. I’m going to put you in touch with the attorney general of the United States, my Attorney General Bill Barr. He’s got the whole weight of the American law enforcement behind him. And I’m going to put you in touch with Rudy. You’re going to love him, trust me.” TRUMP: “Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what's happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.” Later in the call: “I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to· the bottom of it.” Later again in the call: “I will tell Rudy and Attorney General Barr to call.” Here's where Schiff went beyond what the facts: SCHIFF: “I'm going to say this only seven times, so you better listen good. I want you to make up dirt on my political opponent, understand? Lots of it. On this and on that. ... And by the way, don’t call me again. I’ll call you when you’ve done what I asked.' TRUMP: He did not ask Zelensky to “make up dirt.” Instead he pressed for an investigation of a theory, already debunked, that Ukraine cooperated with Democrats in the U.S. election. He also wanted Joe Biden and son Hunter investigated because of the son's involvement with a Ukrainian energy company. Trump said, with couched references to the groundless interference theory and the Bidens: “I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine. ... There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you're surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it.” Trump did not say “you'd better listen good,' or ”I'm going to say this only seven times,' or that Zelensky should only call him once he's done what he wanted. Yet it was clear, through his repetition and blunt words, that Trump's request for a favor was not one to be ignored. “This is, in sum and character, what the president was trying to communicate with the president of Ukraine,” Schiff said. When a Republican lawmaker called out Schiff for distorting the call, the Democrat said his account was meant, in part, as a parody. And afterward, Trump questioned whether Schiff should be tried for treason. ___ EDITOR'S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures. ___ Find AP Fact Checks at http://apne.ws/2kbx8bd Follow @APFactCheck on Twitter: https://twitter.com/APFactCheck
  • The House Judiciary Committee abruptly postponed a historic vote on articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, shutting down a 14-hour session that dragged with partisanship but had been expected to end with the formal charges being sent to the full House for a vote next week. Approval of the two charges against the president is still expected Friday in the committee. But the sudden turn late Thursday punctuated the deep split in the Congress, and the nation, over impeaching the Republican president. The committee, made up of some of the most strident lawmakers, clashed all day and into the night as Republicans insisted on lengthy debate over amendments designed to kill the two formal charges against the president but with no hope of winning votes from the majority Democrats. Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the committee would resume at 10 a.m. Friday. “It is now very late at night,' Nadler said after presiding over the two-day session. “I want the members on both sides of the aisle to think about what has happened over these past two days and to search their consciences before they cast their final votes.” Trump is accused, in the first article, of abusing his presidential power by asking Ukraine to investigate his 2020 rival Joe Biden while holding military aid as leverage, and, in the second, of obstructing Congress by blocking the House's efforts to probe his actions. The Republicans on the panel, blindsided by the move, were livid. When Nadler announced that the committee wouldn't vote until Friday morning, gasps were heard at the dais, and Republicans immediately started yelling 'unbelievable' and “they just want to be on TV.” Congress is set to be out of session on Friday, and many lawmakers had other plans, some outside Washington. 'This is the kangaroo court that we’re talking about” stormed Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the panel, who said he had not been consulted on the decision. “They do not care about rules, they have one thing, their hatred of Donald Trump. ” Trump is only the fourth U.S. president to face impeachment proceedings and the first to be running for reelection at the same time. The outcome of the eventual House votes pose potentially serious political consequences for both parties ahead of the 2020 elections, with Americans deeply divided over whether the president indeed conducted impeachable acts and if it should be up to Congress, or the voters, to decide whether he should remain in office. The president insists he did nothing wrong and blasts the Democrats' effort daily as a sham and harmful to America. Republican allies seem unwavering in their opposition to expelling Trump, and he claims to be looking ahead to swift acquittal in a Senate trial. Speaker Nancy Pelosi sounded confident Thursday that Democrats, who once tried to avoid a solely partisan effort, will have the votes to impeach the president without Republican support when the full House votes. But she said it was up to individual lawmakers to weigh the evidence. “The fact is we take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,' Pelosi told reporters. 'No one is above the law; the president will be held accountable for his abuse of power and for his obstruction of Congress.” After slogging through two days of hearings, Democrats on the committee didn’t want to be forced into late-hour voting, a dark-of-night session that could later be used politically against them. As the majority, they wanted to allow Republicans to offer as many amendments and not cut off debate, Democratic aides said. But as the process drew out, Democrats decided they would prefer to pass the articles in the light of day, the aides said. The president has refused to participate in the proceedings, tweeting criticisms as he did Thursday from the sidelines, mocking the charges against him in the House's nine-page resolution as “impeachment light.” But Pelosi said the president was wrong and the case against him is deeply grounded. Democrats contend that Trump has engaged in a pattern of misconduct toward Russia dating back to the 2016 election campaign that special counsel Robert Mueller investigated. And they say his dealings with Ukraine have benefited its aggressive neighbor Russia, not the U.S., and he must be prevented from 'corrupting' U.S. elections again and cheating his way to a second term next year. 'It is urgent,” Pelosi said. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said late Thursday on Fox News, “There is zero chance the president will be removed from office.” He said he was hoping to have no GOP defections in the Senate trial next year. The Judiciary Committee session drew out over two days, with both sides appealing to Americans' sense of history in sharp, poignant and, at times, personal arguments for and against impeachment. Democrats described a duty to stop what one called the president’s “constitutional crime spree,” and Republicans decried what one said was the “hot garbage’’ impeachment and what it means for the future of the country. As lawmakers dug in for the second day at the stately hearing room in the Capitol, Nadler immediately asked for a full reading of the two articles of impeachment against the president as TV cameras carried the live proceedings . Then came a long day of fights over amendments. First up was an amendment from GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who tried to delete the first charge against Trump. “This amendment strikes article one because article one ignores the truth,” he declared. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., argued there was 'overwhelming evidence' that the president with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, in pushing Ukraine to investigate rival Biden, was engaged in an abuse of power 'to corrupt American elections.'' Debate on that one amendment lasted for hours before it was defeated, 23-17, on a party line vote. Others like it followed. Republicans say Democrats are impeaching the president because they can't beat him in 2020. Democrats warn Americans can't wait for the next election because they worry what Trump will try next. The House is expected to vote on the articles next week, in the days before Christmas. That would send the impeachment effort to the Senate for a 2020 trial. ___ Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, Alan Fram, and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.
  • The Sinclair group of local television stations said Wednesday it is dropping its commentary segments featuring Boris Epshteyn, former aide to President Donald Trump, in favor of a greater emphasis on local investigative journalism. Epshteyn's pro-Trump commentaries, sent by the Sinclair Broadcast Group to its 193 local stations with an order that they must be run, had occasionally been a source of controversy. Sinclair, for example, distanced itself from a segment last year where Epshteyn supported tear-gassing migrants he said were attempting to “storm” the U.S. border. As of Friday, Sinclair is also ending its mandatory-run commentary segments by Ameshia Cross. Sinclair said in a memo to employees that producing more impactful and distinctive local stories is a goal for 2020, mentioning investigations into school systems in Baltimore and homelessness in Seattle. “Our local investigative units are invaluable to the communities we serve,” the memo said. “The positive response and our ratings improvement echoes the public's growing desire for in-depth, watchdog, accountability stories that impact local communities” Sinclair would not comment Wednesday on whether this indicated the company had less interest in being a political influencer. Sinclair has had some success this year with a conservative-leaning political panel show hosted by former Fox News star Eric Bolling that has featured interviews with President Trump and his aides. Epshteyn declined comment on the move. He tweeted that he was thankful to be a part of Sinclair and to have “produced poignant and insightful commentary the past two plus years.” He said he'll be staying on at Sinclair. His future role is unclear, but advertising sales will be a part of it. Cross' future with the company is also to be determined. Earlier this fall, Epshteyn recorded a commentary that mentioned child rape charges that had been filed against two undocumented immigrants, asking 'how many American children have to suffer before Democrats see that illegal immigration is a national security issue? In response, Cross tweeted that the commentary was racist propaganda. “Undocumented immigrants aren't people we should fear,' she tweeted. “They aren't rapists.” In this week's commentary, Epshteyn predicted that if Trump was impeached, the case would be “laughed out” of the Senate. He described one of the articles of impeachment as “whining.” The liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America called Sinclair's decision to “stop force-feeding its audience Trump campaign propaganda” a step in the right direction. “It's proof that the American people want real news, not propaganda masquerading as political commentary,” said Pam Vogel, deputy editorial director at Media Matters.

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  • The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has issued an Amber Alert for 2 missing children. Five-year-old Bri’ya Williams and 6-year-old Braxton Williams were last seen about 11:30 a.m. Sunday in the 10200 block of West Beaver Street in Jacksonville. In a briefing, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said family members were inside a house when the children went missing while playing in their front yard of the home. JSO said a family member called police when they realized that the children were missing from the yard. Sources told ActionNewsJax that the children are siblings. Braxton Williams is said to be on the autism spectrum but will communicate with others. He was wearing a red sweater and blue jeans when he went missing. Bri’ya Williams was wearing a gray sweater with multicolored writing on it. K-9 teams, drones and drive teams from JSO as well as other agencies are searching for the children and will continue their search through the night. Police are asking for everyone in the area to be on the lookout and to call JSO at 904-630-0500 or 911 if they have information about where the children could be.
  • A California father is facing multiple charges, including murder, in the death of his toddler son, authorities said. According to the Fresno Bee, Jesse Ashton, 23, of Mariposa, surrendered to authorities Friday, less than two weeks after they issued a warrant accusing him of murder and assault resulting in the April 2018 death of 22-month-old Bradley Reynolds. Ashton was jailed on $1 million bond, the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release. Deputies previously arrested Ashton on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter April 19, 2018, after Bradley died at an area hospital earlier that week, the Sheriff’s Office said. Ashton, who claimed that the boy had suffered a seizure, was released on bail, authorities said. “Based on evidence available at that time, no charges were filed by the District Attorney’s Office,” the news release said. But that changed after officials completed an autopsy and pathology report and gathered more information during their investigation, the Sheriff’s Office said. Authorities reviewed the results in November and issued an arrest warrant for Ashton on Dec. 2, according to the news release. “The incontrovertible evidence shows that Jesse Ashton murdered his child,” District Attorney Walter Wall said in a statement. Read more here or here. Deputies previously arrested Ashton on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter April 19, 2018, after Bradley died at an area hospital earlier that week, the Sheriff’s Office said. Ashton, who claimed that the boy had suffered a seizure, was released on bail, authorities said. “Based on evidence available at that time, no charges were filed by the District Attorney’s Office,” the news release said. But that changed after officials completed an autopsy and pathology report and gathered more information during their investigation, the Sheriff’s Office said. Authorities reviewed the results in November and issued an arrest warrant for Ashton on Dec. 2, according to the news release. “The incontrovertible evidence shows that Jesse Ashton murdered his child,” District Attorney Walter Wall said in a statement. Read more here or here.
  • Police in Oklahoma are investigating after a fatal triple shooting Saturday afternoon in Jenks. Investigators told KOKI-TV that a man and his two sons are dead after what they believe is a case of murder-suicide. Police said the children’s mother was at work at the time. The shooting happened in the Country Woods neighborhood near West 106th Street South and South Madison Street South. Officers responded to a call around 12:50 p.m. regarding a domestic incident at the home. Police said others living in the home called 911. No one else in the home was injured.
  • Police in Jacksonville Beach are investigating after more than a dozen cars were broken into over the course of a few days. It started last weekend along 5th Street South where several of those burglaries took place.  Police reports said there were 14 burglaries that happened Saturday through Monday.  Joseph Rennie said he’s hoping this weekend they don’t see a repeat.  “All in all, this is a pretty safe neighborhood. But occasionally, you have things like this happen and come up, but it’s definitely a little bit unnerving,” Rennie said.  Police said someone was going around smashing out windows of vehicles and looking for valuables inside. Wallets, credit and debit cards were taken.  Some people had nothing taken, but were left with a broken window. It happened to 6 cars on 5th Street, 4 cars on 12th, and several others on the surrounding blocks.  Rennie, like many others who live in the area, said he’s thankful he wasn’t a victim, but was surprised it happened to so many people in the area.  “There is a sense of just making sure you’re being smart about it, not leaving stuff of value in your car, kind of anywhere. But yeah, its really unfortunate to see that that’s happened, especially around the holiday season,” Rennie said.  As always, police are urging people not to leave valuables in their cars.
  • Florida, along with 29 other states, has been accepted for membership into the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), according to Governor Ron DeSantis' office. ERIC is a multi-state partnership that uses a data-matching tool to help enhance election security and make voter rolls more accurate.  The governor's office says through ERIC, member states can share information from voter registration systems, motor vehicle databases, social security death records, and US Post Office records, to help identify voters who have moved, passed away, or changed their name.  Additionally, the governor's office says ERIC will help boost voter registration as it will provide member states better information on how to contact potentially eligible, but unregistered voters.  Governor DeSantis says he has set aside an estimated $1.3 million in his 2020-2021 recommend budget to conduct outreach to these unregistered voters with a direct mailer prior to the 2020 general election.  But the governor's office says Florida's full participation in ERIC will be contingent on the state legislature signing off on his budget. Being a member of ERIC requires annual dues of around $75,000.

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