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    Joe Walsh, a former Illinois congressman ad tea party favorite turned radio talk show host, announced a longshot challenge Sunday to President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination in 2020, saying the incumbent is 'completely unfit' for office and must be denied a second term. 'Somebody needs to step up and there needs to be an alternative' among Republicans, Walsh told ABC's 'This Week,' adding that 'the country is sick of this guy's tantrum. He's a child. ... He lies every time he opens his mouth.' Already in the race is former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld. Walsh narrowly won a House seat from suburban Chicago in the 2010 tea party wave but lost a 2012 reelection bid and has since hosted a radio talk show. He has a history of inflammatory statements regarding Muslims and others and declared just before the 2016 election that if Trump lost, 'I'm grabbing my musket.' But he has since soured on Trump, criticizing the president in a recent New York Times column over growth of the federal deficit and calling him 'a racial arsonist who encourages bigotry and xenophobia to rouse his base.' Walsh promises to contest Trump from the right as opposed to Weld, who is regarded as fiscally conservative but socially liberal. Weld was the 2016 Libertarian Party vice presidential nominee. The road ahead for any Republican primary challenger will certainly be difficult. In recent months, Trump's allies have taken over state parties that control primary elections in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and elsewhere. State party leaders sometimes pay lip service to the notion that they would welcome a primary challenger, as their state party rules usually require, but they are already working to ensure Trump's reelection. South Carolina Republicans have gone so far as to discuss canceling their state's GOP primary altogether if a legitimate primary challenge emerges to eliminate the threat. At the same time, polling consistently shows that Trump has the solid backing of an overwhelming majority of Republican voters. An Associated Press-NORC poll conducted this month found that 78% of Republicans approve of Trump's job performance. That number has been hovering around 80% even as repeated scandals have rocked his presidency. 'Look, this isn't easy to do. ... I'm opening up my life to tweets and attacks. Everything I've said and tweeted now, Trump's going to go after, and his bullies are going to go after,' Walsh told ABC. Asked whether he was prepared for that, Walsh replied: 'Yes, I'm ready for it.' Walsh, 57, rode a wave of anti-President Barack Obama sentiment to a 300-vote victory over a Democratic incumbent in the 2010 election. He made a name for himself in Washington as a cable news fixture who was highly disparaging of Obama. Walsh was criticized for saying that the Democratic Party's 'game' is to make Latinos dependent on government just like 'they got African Americans dependent upon government.' At another point, he said radical Muslims are in the U.S. 'trying to kill Americans every week,' including in Chicago's suburbs. He lost his 2012 reelection bid by more than 20,000 votes to Democrat Tammy Duckworth, who was elected to the U.S. Senate four years later. Walsh told Obama to 'watch out' on Twitter in July 2016 after five police officers were killed in Dallas. Just days before Trump's 2016 win over Hillary Clinton, Walsh tweeted: 'On November 8th, I'm voting for Trump. On November 9th, if Trump loses, I'm grabbing my musket. You in?' Walsh later said on Twitter that he was referring to 'acts of civil disobedience.' Walsh wrote in his New York Times column that 'In Mr. Trump, I see the worst and ugliest iteration of views I expressed for the better part of a decade.' 'On more than one occasion, I questioned Mr. Obama's truthfulness about his religion,' Walsh wrote. 'At times, I expressed hate for my political opponents. We now see where this can lead. There's no place in our politics for personal attacks like that, and I regret making them.' Walsh said his 2016 vote for Trump was actually against Clinton and faulted Trump for his unwillingness to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin. 'He encouraged Russian interference in the 2016 election, and he refuses to take foreign threats seriously as we enter the 2020 election. That's reckless,' Walsh wrote. 'For three years, he has been at war with our federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, as he embraces tyrants abroad and embarrasses our allies. That's un-American.' ___ Associated Press writers Tom Davies in Indianapolis and Steve Peoples in New York contributed to this report.
  • King of Israel? The second coming? The chosen one? President Donald Trump is known to have a healthy ego. But a string of comments Wednesday went to a higher level. First, Trump thanked conservative radio host and supporter Wayne Allyn Root for his praise. In a tweet, Trump quoted Root calling the president 'the best president for Israel in the history of the world' and claiming Jewish people in Israel love Trump 'like he's the King of Israel. They love him like he's the second coming of God.' The messianic imagery may have stuck in Trump's head. Later in the day, as the president was defending his trade war with China, he cast himself as a reluctant warrior. Somebody had to do it and he was the one, he told reporters. 'I am the chosen one,' he said, turning and looking up to the sky. 'Somebody had to do it.
  • The Latest on Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib being blocked from visiting Israel (all times local): 3:45 p.m. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota is calling on other members of Congress to visit Israel while she and Rep. Rashida Tlaib cannot. Israel last week blocked the two Democratic House members from a planned trip to that country over their support for a Palestinian-led boycott movement. At a news conference in Minnesota, Omar says she and Tlaib are being prevented from carrying out their duties as members of Congress. She is calling on her colleagues to 'meet with the people we were going to meet with, see the things we were going to see, hear the stories we were going to hear.' Omar says President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot succeed 'in hiding the cruel reality of the occupation from us.' ___ 5:52 a.m. Democratic U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan are hosting a news conference on travel restrictions to Israel and Palestine, after they were denied entry into Israel last week. At the urging of President Donald Trump, Israel denied entry to the two Muslim representatives over their support for the Palestinian-led boycott movement. The two are outspoken critics of Trump and of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. They were subjected to a series of racist tweets from Trump last month, in which he told them to 'go back' to their 'broken' countries. Both are U.S. citizens. Omar, Tlaib and Minnesota residents who have been impacted by travel restrictions plan to speak about the issue Monday afternoon in St. Paul.
  • A reported book deal for Mark Halperin, the 'Game Change' co-author and political commentator who has faced multiple allegations of sexual harassment, is being greeted with widespread outrage. Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson called the deal 'a slap in the face to all women.' Politico announced Sunday that Halperin's 'How To Beat Trump' was expected in November. The book draws upon observations by dozens of Democratic strategists, including Donna Brazile, James Carville and David Axelrod. It's the first major project for Halperin since reports of harassment emerged in 2017, with former colleagues alleging crude sexual advances. Penguin Random House canceled a planned book by Halperin and John Heilemann about the 2016 presidential election and Halperin also was dropped as a commentator by Showtime and NBC News. 'Game Change,' about the 2008 election, was a bestseller co-written by Halperin and Heilemann and later adapted into an acclaimed HBO movie. They also teamed up on a bestseller about the 2012 race, 'Double Down.' Carlson, who alleged she was harassed by the late former Fox chairman Roger Ailes, was among many expressing surprise and anger about Sunday's announcement. CNN political commentator Karen Finney called Halperin 'a predator' and condemned publisher Regan Arts. Political strategist Rebecca Katz tweeted that 'you can beat Trump without supporting the career rehabilitation of Mark Halperin.' Eleanor McManus said she was a 21-year-old job seeker when then-ABC News political reporter Halperin tried to kiss her during a meeting in his office. She's the co-founder of PR firm Trident DMG. 'He leveraged his position as a prominent journalist to prey on women,' she said in an email. 'He has yet to take responsibility for his actions by apologizing to his victims or demonstrating genuine contrition. Giving him a book once again puts him in a position of authority and that is a slap in the face to all the women that he has victimized.' Halperin's media campaign already seems limited. On Sunday, CNN announced that Halperin would not be appearing on the network to promote his book. An NBC spokesperson told The Associated Press that Halperin would not be appearing on NBC or MSNBC. Axelrod, meanwhile tweeted that his decision to participate in the book stemmed from his knowing Halperin for 25 years. 'He emailed me three questions about the 2020 race for a book he was writing and I replied in a few sentences, without giving enough thought to how my participation would be used or interpreted,' wrote Axelrod, a former adviser to Barack Obama. 'By answering Halperin's questions, I did not in any way mean to excuse his past, egregious behavior and, in retrospect, I regret responding at all.' Regan Arts founder Judith Regan has a long history of taking on provocative and inflammatory books. While running her own imprint at HarperCollins in the 1990s and 2000s, she released such best-sellers as Jenna Jameson's 'How to Make Love Like a Porn Star' and 'Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big,' by former baseball star and acknowledged steroids user Jose Canseco. In the fall of 2006, to instant notoriety, Regan announced plans to publish 'If I Did It,' the purported fictionalized confession by O.J. Simpson to the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. The book was condemned and canceled, and Regan was fired by corporate overseer News Corp. near the end of 2006 over alleged anti-Semitic comments. She sued for wrongful termination and the case was settled out of court in 2008, with News Corp. issuing a statement that 'it accepted Ms. Regan's position that she did not say anything that was anti-Semitic in nature.' Regan founded Regan Arts in 2013 and had a relatively quiet run until this weekend. On Sunday, she did not immediately respond to email and telephone messages seeking comment. ___ Associated Press reporter Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom was wrapping up a meeting with the president of El Salvador in April when his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, spoke up in fluent Spanish. What, she asked Salvador Sánchez Cerén, did he have to say about the country's poor record on women's rights? Newsom, who doesn't speak the language, learned what she had asked through a translator and worried his host would be offended. But Sánchez Cerén didn't seem fazed and gave a lengthy answer about progress and work that remains. Gavin Newsom said in a recent interview he should have expected his wife's forthrightness. 'There's no timidity with Jen when it comes to things she cares about and causes she holds dear,' he said. And the chief causes for Siebel Newsom, a 45-year-old actress turned documentary film maker, are gender equality and society's treatment of women and families. As California's 'First Partner,' a term she prefers to the traditional 'First Lady' because it is gender neutral and could apply to the spouse of a future woman or LGBT governor, Siebel Newsom is marrying the activism she's done through her filmmaking with the governing agenda of her husband, a Democrat in his first term leading the nation's most populous state. Since her husband's inauguration, Siebel Newsom has launched a campaign pushing California companies to pay workers equally and urged her husband to expand paid family leave. She stood alongside him and women lawmakers in May when he announced a 'parents' agenda' that includes two more weeks of leave per parent, a bigger tax credit for low-income families and tax cuts on tampons and diapers. It easily passed as part of the state budget. 'I don't have to say things anymore — he's been listening for a long time,' Siebel Newsom said of her husband of 11 years. Women lawmakers see new allies in the Newsoms, parents of four children under 10, compared to former Gov. Jerry Brown, who was 81 when he left office. 'She has the governor's ear and you know she values the same things,' Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez said of Siebel Newsom's work with the Legislative Women's Caucus. Shortly after the Newsoms married, Siebel Newsom, found herself dissatisfied with the roles Hollywood gave her -- like the love interest of male characters and a one-episode appearance as a prostitute in the 'Mad Men' TV series. Inspired by the pregnancy that produced her first child, a girl, Siebel Newsom decided to go behind the camera to make her first documentary 'Miss Representation,' which examines Hollywood's fixation on women's looks. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011, followed by her launch of The Representation Project nonprofit group that writes curricula about gender in media. Siebel Newsom then widened her scope, focusing on how society treats men and boys with her film 'The Mask You Live In' and exploring how gender values influence the U.S. economy in 'The Great American Lie,' which premiered this year. As Newsom's 'First Partner,' she plans to launch an effort this fall probing the negative effects of media and technology on children. She said 'the jury's still out' when asked if it will be hard for her as the governor's wife to take on two mega-industries that drive California's economy: Silicon Valley and Hollywood. 'A good percentage of entertainment and tech that we're putting out into the world is questionable in terms of the impact it's having on our kids' minds and hearts and well-being,' she said. In 'The Great American Lie,' Siebel Newsom takes on the economic policies of President Ronald Reagan, who she revered while growing up in a conservative household in wealthy Marin County, just north of San Francisco. That background, she says, helps her empathize with a range of people, including conservatives featured in her films. Her father, the son of steel mill workers, put himself through college on a scholarship and then went into the wealth management business where Siebel Newsom said he reaped benefits from so-called 'Reaganomics' that favored less taxes and government regulation. He held traditional views of family, with him as the breadwinner and his wife maintaining the home and caring for five daughters. When Siebel Newsom was 6, her older sister died in a golf cart accident, which she said fostered a sense of guilt and a need 'to help people because I couldn't help her.' Siebel Newsom said her political views evolved as she got older. 'I really grew up thinking Reagan was the end-all, be-all and then when I started delving into research around his policies and saw the outcomes, I realized that I didn't associate with those policies and didn't think those were the smartest,' she said. That makes for some uncomfortable conversations with her parents, who she said are still proud of her political work with Newsom. 'We have discussions that I'm not always interested in having, but I'm always listening to (my dad's) perspective and hoping he's listening to mine,' she said. Siebel Newsom's parents instilled a commitment to service, and she followed in her father's footsteps by working with the nonprofit Conservation International in Latin America and Africa in between getting her bachelor's degree and an MBA at Stanford University. She honed her Spanish while living in Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina and Chile. Her Spanish now allows her to communicate with millions of Californians in a way that her husband can't. State Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, an immigrant from El Salvador, said Siebel Newsom has worked to amplify the voices of marginalized communities. 'She's not trying to speak on behalf of any group, she's trying to give voice and a platform to communities that often are not invited or don't have the opportunity or the luxury of being in the room or at the table,' Carrillo said. Both Newsoms say they constantly discuss their political priorities. 'They're informal conversations at dinner, having breakfast, driving the kids to school, getting coffee in the morning,' Gov. Newsom said. Newsom said he arrived at 11 p.m. at the family's multi-million-dollar home in a Sacramento suburb after a long day in June finalizing his state budget and found about two dozen women there discussing Michelle Obama's book 'Becoming' with his wife. That talk with her book club led Siebel Newsom to bring a host of other topics to her husband's attention, keeping him up long past midnight. As he recalled it, 'They just got into these deep conversations, and those conversations carry over to: 'What are you going to do about it, Gavin?
  • Lizbeth De La Cruz Santana returned Friday to the Mexican beach where her father entered the U.S. illegally before she was born, this time to put final touches on a mural of adults who came to the U.S. illegally as young children and were deported. Visitors who hold up their phones to the painted faces are taken to a website that voices first-person narratives. There is a deported U.S. veteran. There are two deported mothers with children who were born in the U.S. There is a man who would have been eligible for an Obama-era program to shield people who came to the U.S. when they were very young from deportation, but was deported less than a year before the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, took effect in 2012. The project blends Mexico's rich history of muralists with what can loosely be called interactive or performance art on the 1,954-mile (3,126-kilometer) U.S.-Mexico border. At the same Tijuana beach during an art festival in 2005, David Smith Jr., known as 'The Human Cannonball,' flashed his passport, lowered himself into a barrel and was shot over the wall, landing on a net with U.S. Border Patrol agents nearby. In 2017, professional swimmers crossed the border from the U.S. in the Pacific Ocean and landed on the same beach, where a Mexican official greeted them with stamped passports and schoolchildren cheered. Last month, an artist installed three pink seesaws though a border wall that separates El Paso, Texas, from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. De La Cruz Santana, 28, conceived the interactive mural as part of a doctoral dissertation at University of California, Davis, in Spanish with a focus on literature and immigrant experiences. The faces are affixed with barcodes that link to audio on the project website. Her dissertation will include written arguments for DACA-style benefits to anyone who comes to the U.S. as a young child, without any of the disqualifiers like criminal history that former President Barack Obama included. 'Technology is one of the best ways and venues for people to tell their stories,' said De La Cruz, whose parents obtained legal status through former President Ronald Reagan's amnesty law. With a $7,500 grant, De La Cruz, who was born and raised in California, directed about 15 people who painted on polyester canvass at a Tijuana art gallery called 'House of the Tunnel,' which was once used to smuggle drugs in a secret underground passage to San Diego. She partnered with Mauro Carrera, a longtime friend and a muralist who lives in Fresno, California. The project is also deeply personal for Carrera, 32, who was born in Mexico, crossed the border illegally as a toddler, and obtained legal status through his father, who had amnesty. He grew up with friends and neighbors in the U.S. illegally. Carrera said the project aims to 'see the people behind the politics.' The deportees painted at least 80% of their own faces under his direction. 'I feel I'm right in the middle of the issue,' he said as others rolled canvases over steel poles that were topped with coiled wire installed after Donald Trump became president. Last year, many Central Americans in a large caravan of asylum seekers gravitated to the beach, which is downhill from a light tower, bull ring and restaurants. The U.S. side of the beach is usually empty, except for Border Patrol agents parked in their vehicles and occasional hikers. De La Cruz Santana is struck by the lively atmosphere on the Mexican side and quiet in the U.S. 'If you look past this wall on the U.S. side, there's nothing,' she said. 'I wanted to erase the border.' ___ This story has been corrected to show that two mothers' daughters were not allowed to stay in the U.S. under an Obama-era program.
  • It's not quite 'Trump-McConnell 2020,' but it might as well be. As he runs for reelection, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is positioning himself as the president's wingman, his trusted right hand in Congress, transformed from a behind-the-scenes player into a prominent if sometimes reviled Republican like none other besides Donald Trump himself. 'In Washington, President Trump and I are making America great again!' he declared at a rally in Kentucky, his voice rising over protesters. Other than Democrat Nancy Pelosi — and more recently Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — no current politician has so quickly become such a high-profile object of partisan scorn. McConnell was heckled last weekend at his home state's annual 'Fancy Farm' political picnic, and protesters outside his Louisville house hurled so many profanities that Twitter temporarily shut down his account for posting video of them online. Undaunted, he revels in the nickname he's given himself — the 'Grim Reaper,' bragging that he's burying the House Democrats' agenda — though he seems stung by one lobbed by opponents, 'Moscow Mitch.' But the Democrats' agenda includes gun legislation to require background checks that Trump now wants to consider, forcing McConnell to adjust his earlier refusal to do so. The Senate leader has been here before, pushing ahead with a Trump priority that's unpopular with most Republicans. But this will test both his relationship with the president and his grip on the GOP majority. All while he's campaigning to keep his job. McConnell is even more dependent on Trump's popularity in Kentucky than on his own, a different political landscape from the one he faced in 2014, before the president took the White House. 'They need each other,' says Scott Jennings, a longtime adviser to McConnell. The new McConnell strategy shows just how far Trump has transformed the GOP, turning a banker's-collar-and-cufflinks conservative into a 'Fake News!' shouting senator. Theirs was not an easy alliance in Trump's first year, and they went a long stretch without talking to each other. But two years on, McConnell has proven a loyal implementer of the president's initiatives, and Trump no longer assails the senator on Twitter. Perhaps no issue has drawn the unlikely partners together more than the current reckoning over national gun violence. Republicans, long allied with the National Rifle Association, have resisted stricter laws on firearm and ammunition sales. But the frequency of mass shootings and the grave toll are intensifying pressure to act. Trump on Friday revived his interest in having Congress take a look at expanding federal background checks and other gun safety laws long pushed by Democrats, insisting he will be able to get Republicans on board. McConnell, in a shift, said he's now willing to consider those ideas 'front and center' when Congress returns in the fall. Said Trump, 'I think I have a greater influence now over the Senate.' But McConnell doesn't call himself the Grim Reaper for nothing. He is well known on Capitol Hill for his legislative blocking skills, having stopped much of the Obama administration's agenda when he first became Senate leader and more recently halting bills coming from the Democratic-controlled House, including one to expand background checks. 'We've seen it before,' said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in a tweet after the weekend mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. 'An awful shooting occurs. @realDonaldTrump expresses interest in helping. Republicans try to get him off the hook with lesser measures. Nothing happens.' In fact, McConnell and his allies have taken on Trump's style, lashing out at media and political opponents. When campaign volunteers came under criticism for appearing to choke a cardboard cutout of Ocasio-Cortez at the picnic in a photo circulated online, McConnell allies said the high schoolers were being treated unfairly by opponents trying to maliciously shame them in public. The shift in McConnell's strategy is not lost on Democrat Amy McGrath, the former fighter pilot and the leading Democrat hoping to win the party's nomination to challenge him next fall, her campaign said. McGrath is telling Kentuckians that McConnell is part of the problem, a long-serving leader who has stood in the way of gun safety, health care and other legislation for years, and hardly the one to fulfill Trump's promises. Democrats and Republicans say she is expected to attract plenty of fundraising dollars and volunteers in a race that could easily approach $100 million, second only to the presidential contest. 'It almost feels like we have a mini-presidential campaign going on here,' said Jennings. Kentucky remains a GOP stronghold, and Trump is extraordinarily popular, which is part of the reason McConnell is tying his own political future to the president. But it's unclear if his is the right strategy for the times. With a national profile, McConnell's record is coming under more scrutiny. An investment in a Kentucky aluminum plant by a company with ties to Russia has raised questions. And McConnell's refusal to allow the Senate to consider a House-passed election security bill has resulted in opponents calling him 'Moscow Mitch' following Russia's 2016 campaign interference. His campaign tries to make light of questions surrounding the shipping business run by the family of his wife, Elaine Chao, Trump's transportation secretary. The state's lone Democratic congressman, John Yarmuth, whose district includes liberal Louisville, said McConnell has never been especially popular in Kentucky but has managed to keep winning elections. 'He's a survivor,' Yarmuth said. 'He's in good shape only because Trump's at the top of the ticket.' At the weekend events in Kentucky, McConnell was relishing his Senate post, telling voters that as the only member in congressional leadership not from New York or California, 'I'm the guy that sticks up for middle America.' At breakfast before taking the stage, he said he was ready to take on all comers. 'I can't wait,' he said. 'There's nothing I like better than engaging these crazy left-wingers and saving this country,' he said. 'And we're going to do precisely that.' ___ Associated Press writer Bruce Schreiner in Louisville contributed to this report. ___ Online: Crowd rallies against McConnell's gun legislation https://youtu.be/FnUF4br6Fng ___ Follow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/lisamascaro
  • The packed field of Democratic presidential candidates descended Friday night on a small, northern Iowa town, delighting a raucous crowd of voters by largely attacking President Donald Trump rather than each other. Some of the loudest applause at the Wing Ding fundraiser came for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who tailored her message to her rural surroundings, saying she'd stand up for small farmers against 'big ag' interests. 'Trade war by tweet is not working for our farmers,' she said of Trump's using Twitter to announce tariffs on China, which has stung international markets. 'I promise you this, when I'm president, when I negotiate a trade deal there will be independent farmers at the table.' Also energizing the crowd was Mayor Pete Buttigeig of South Bend, Indiana, who accused the president of 'coddling white nationalism' and mocked Trump's background in television, saying he wasn't sure if its current occupant had turned the White House into a 'reality show' or a 'horror show.' 'What we're going to do is pick up the remote and change the channel,' Buttigeig, the youngest presidential candidate, proclaimed to sustained cheers. Once a low-key fundraiser that served up chicken wings and raised money for Democratic candidates and nearby county parties, the event has grown in stature in the state that kicks off presidential primary voting. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of neighboring Minnesota poked fun at the parade of candidates taking the stage one after another and forcing everyone to keep their speeches short: 'Last time I had 20 minutes, and this time I have 20 candidates.' Some who ran longer than their allotted five minutes — including the evening's final speaker, former Vice President Joe Biden — were subjected to musical cues trying to play them offstage, just like the Academy Awards. The event coincides with the state fair in Des Moines, and most Democratic White House hopefuls have been crisscrossing the state for days. California Sen. Kamala Harris is on a bus tour, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is traveling via RV and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has a Winnebago. Many of Friday's speeches featured cracking voices after long stretches of campaigning. Biden, who has consistently led in the polls, offered a long list of Trump's actions that he said had stirred up racial division before declaring: 'Let's call this what it is. This is white nationalism, this is white supremacy.' The candidates overlapped with messages of how Trump had spread hate and fear nationwide. But a few also offered stern warnings that topping the president in 2020 will be tough. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said Trump will win unless Democrats have an argument that 'speaks to the pain and reality of the working families of this country.' Hickenlooper noted that Trump's approval rating was about 42 percent, just a tad lower than Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama before they won reelection. He also said neither Reagan nor Obama had 'an economy as strong as the one today.' Hickenlooper said the Democrats need to look at the nation's history to beat Trump and swiped at the numerous senators seeking the White House, saying no senator has ever beaten a sitting president — only former governors have because they were closer to their constituents. But most of the others played nice, a departure from two rounds of recent debates that featured frequent clashes. Things were civil behind-the-scenes, too. As Harris spoke, Biden breezily milled through the crowd of staffers, Democratic activists and security personnel backstage. The pair has developed an increasingly testy rapport since the first debate, but Biden, with his trademark grin, was smiling and shaking hands — including with Harris aides waiting for their candidate to finish. Iowa is also getting its first look at billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, who only recently joined the race. Steyer said he alone could challenge a fellow rich man like Trump, exposing his 'pattern of fraud.' The candidates also consistently blamed Trump for not doing enough to prevent mass shootings like those in Ohio and Texas last week. Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke canceled his Iowa visit to remain in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, where 22 people died. His campaign will stay suspended through the weekend and perhaps beyond. 'We've been asked a couple of times by folks when we're gonna get back on the campaign trail. We will at some point,' O'Rourke said in a Facebook video from his home Friday. 'We really want to be here right now for El Paso, for the families.' O'Rourke also appeared in a somber video during Friday's event. 'I'm sad that I can't be with you in person,' he said. 'I hope to see you in the very near future.' ___ Associated Press writers Bill Barrow and Thomas Beaumont contributed to this report.
  • President Donald Trump has sent his clearest signal yet that he may be about to sign commutation papers freeing former Illinois governor and one-time 'Celebrity Apprentice' contestant Rod Blagojevich from federal prison in Colorado. The 62-year-old Democrat, who was once best known and the butt of jokes for his thick, meticulously coiffed hair, is seven years into a lengthy sentence for extortion, bribery and other wide-ranging political corruption. 'I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly,' Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One this week about Blagojevich. He added: 'I'm thinking about commuting his sentence very strongly.' Trump on Thursday took to Twitter , saying that many people have asked him to look into commuting Blagojevich's sentence. 'White House staff is continuing the review of this matter,' Trump tweeted. Trump's comments aboard Air Force One on Blagojevich's case contained several errors and underplayed the severity of the crimes, which included attempting to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated when Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008. A look at Blagojevich's crimes, Trump's characterization of them and why the president may be taking a special interest in the case: Q: WAS BLAGOJEVICH CONVICTED FOR BRAGGING? A: Trump echoed an assertion Blagojevich has made for years that federal prosecutors came after him for mere musings and boastful talk on the phone, which, unbeknownst to Blagojevich at the time in 2008, had been tapped by the FBI. Speaking to reporters Wednesday night, Trump said Blagojevich was behind bars 'over a phone call where nothing happens.' He added Blagojevich 'shouldn't have said what he said, but it was braggadocio.' Judges and prosecutors rejected such interpretations. The majority of Illinois residents, many who seemed otherwise jaded by the state's long, ignominious history of political corruption, expressed shock at what Blagojevich did. His conviction for trying to sell an appointment to Obama's Senate seat for campaign contributions stood out, in part, because of Blagojevich's excited, expletive-laden talk captured on wiretaps about how he could parlay his power to name a new senator into campaign donations. 'I've got this thing and it's f------ golden,' he is heard saying. 'And I'm just not giving it up for f------ nothing.' Prosecutors said the crimes went beyond talk, with Blagojevich dispatching emissaries to press potential donors and to convey the message that they'd have to pay to play. His other convictions included trying to shake down a Chicago children's hospital. Its CEO, Patrick Magoon, testified that Blagojevich threatened to cancel an $8 million state pediatric-care reimbursement unless Magoon paid $25,000 into Blagojevich's campaign coffers. A federal appeals court in 2015 did toss five of 18 convictions , including ones in which Blagojevich offered an appointment to the Senate for a high-paying job. But the convictions for trying to trade an appointment for campaign cash where upheld. Q: WAS TRUMP RIGHT ABOUT THE SENTENCE? A: In his comments, Trump was right about the amount Blagojevich has served to date when he said: 'I think it's enough: seven years.' Blagojevich reported to prison in 2012, after which his hair quickly turned white because hair dyes are prohibited behind bars. Inside, the Elvis Presley fan formed a prison band called 'The Jailhouse Rockers,' his lawyers have said. Trump was wrong in saying Blagojevich 'was given close to 18 years in prison.' Judge James Zagel sentenced Blagojevich in 2011 to 14 years in prison. 'The abuse of the office of governor is more damaging than the abuse of any other office, except the president's,' Zagel said in sentencing the two-term governor. 'When it is the governor who goes bad,' the judge said, 'the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily repaired.' Federal felons must serve at least 85 percent of their sentences, meaning Blagojevich would be eligible after serving 12 years. That would put his release date in 2024. In speaking about how he thought Blagojevich's sentence was too long, Trump also said: 'You have drug dealers that get not even 30 days, and they've killed 25 people.' It's unclear what Trump meant. Q: WHAT'S TRUMP'S INTEREST IN THE CASE? A: Trump appeared to draw a link between the federal prosecution of Blagojevich and the federal investigation of Russian meddling in the U.S. election. 'And it was the same gang — the (James Comey) gang and the — all these sleazebags — that did it,' Trump said Wednesday. But Comey, who Trump fired as FBI director in 2017, wasn't in the FBI or anywhere in the Department of Justice during the investigation and indictment of Blagojevich. During that period, he was a vice president and general counsel at Lockheed Martin Corp. He left private practice in 2013, after Blagojevich was already in prison, and was confirmed that year as FBI director. The Blagojevich investigation began during the George W. Bush's presidency, when a familiar figure in the Russian investigation led the FBI: Robert Mueller. Trump fired Blagojevich from the 'Celebrity Apprentice' reality show in 2010 after Blagojevich struggled to complete basic tasks on a cellphone, like sending texts and e-mails. But Trump also expressed admiration for Blagojevich, whose first trial was about to begin. Trump praised him for how he was fighting his criminal case, telling him: 'You have a hell of a lot of guts.' Q: HAS TRUMP DISCUSSED THIS BEFORE? A: Trump first publicly mentioned the idea of freeing Blagojevich in May 2018. He said at the time that Blagojevich was convicted for 'being stupid, saying things that every other politician, you know, that many other politicians say.' As time passed with no action by Trump, Blagojevich's wife, Patti, went on a media blitz with an apparent target audience of one: Trump himself. Patti Blagojevich, who comes from a influential family of Chicago Democrats, went out of her way to praise the Republican president. She gave several interviews on Fox News, one of the president's favorite news sources, likening the investigation of her husband to the Russia investigation that Trump called a 'witch hunt.' In his comments this week, Trump expressed sympathy for the Blagojevich daughters and admiration for Patti. 'I'm very impressed with his wife,' he said. 'She's one hell of a woman.' ___ Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm
  • A billionaire New York investor and owner of the Miami Dolphins who is hosting a high-dollar fundraiser for Donald Trump on Friday also has a financial interest in the president's business empire — including his iconic Manhattan tower. Shortly after Trump's election, Stephen M. Ross tried to take over Ladder Capital, one of Trump's biggest creditors, which also holds a mortgage on Trump Tower. Though the takeover failed, Ross' private equity firm Related Companies purchased an $80 million stake in Ladder, which is still owed more than $100 million by Trump, records show. The campaign fundraiser at Ross' home in the Hamptons, with tickets costing up to $250,000, provides another stark example of the intersection between Trump's business and political interests, the sort of comingling of wealth and power that Trump crusaded against during the 2016 race when he derided politicians for taking money from special interests. 'It's another reminder of how the president's refusal to divest from the Trump Organization continues to present potential conflicts of interest,' said Brendan Fischer, an attorney with the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. 'We don't know what they might want, or what they might be getting in return.' Unlike other presidents, Trump has refused to divest himself from his business holdings, and he is not legally required to do so. His campaign did not respond to repeated request for comment on Thursday. Daniel I. Weiner, a former Federal Election Commission attorney, said concern about the influence big donors may wield over a president is not unique to Trump. 'It's not that this is some completely new universe that we're living in. It's that longstanding problems with our political system are now on steroids,' said Weiner, who is now senior counsel at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice. 'It becomes very hard to know where a president's personal and political interests end and his service to the public interest begins.' The fundraiser, which was first reported by the Washington Post, has already set off a wave of bad publicity for Ross and Related Companies, which also owns Equinox, an upscale chain of athletic clubs, and the indoor cycling studio SoulCycle. Some celebrities and activists threatened to boycott. Kenny Stills, a Dolphins wide receiver, also criticized Ross' decision to hold the fundraiser. He tweeted a screen capture from the website for Ross' anti-racism initiative RISE which says the program 'educates and empowers the sports community to eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice and improve race relations.' 'You can't have a non-profit with this mission statement then open your doors to Trump,' he tweeted. Ross regularly donates to Republicans — as well as a few Democrats — though he does not appear to have given to Trump in the past, according to FEC records. In a statement released Wednesday Ross defended his decision to hold the fundraiser, noting that he has known Trump for 40 years. 'I always have been an active participant in the democratic process,' Ross said. 'While some prefer to sit outside of the process and criticize, I prefer to engage directly and support the things I deeply care about.' Since 2012, Trump's companies have taken out loans from Ladder Capital and currently owe anywhere between $110 million and $150 million, according to a debt range included in the president's 2019 financial disclosure. That includes at least $50 million he owes on a 2012 mortgage on Trump Tower, the building where he lives, and represents one of his most successful real estate investments. Before their takeover attempt was rejected, Related Companies purchased an $80 million share in Ladder Capital and Richard O'Toole, the company's vice president and general counsel, was installed on the board of directors, filings show. Related sold off some of its stock earlier this year and O'Toole recently stepped down from the board, but the company continues to hold 5.1 million shares in Ladder, filings show. Related spokeswoman Joanna Rose said the firm 'now owns less than 5% of the shares of Ladder' and added that 'any allegation or speculation beyond a simple investment strategy is patently false.' Ladder did not respond to a request for comment. Trump has repeatedly been accused of using his position for profit. Foreign governments and businesses flock to his Washington hotel. His Mar-a-Lago club has seen a surge in memberships. And political fundraisers are often held at his properties. Related has business holdings in the United States and abroad, much of it in real estate, including high-end developments in London and the Middle East, according to the company's website. 'The timing of the initial purchase certainly seems significant,' said Fischer, of the Campaign Legal Center. 'It became clear pretty early on that foreign and domestic interests saw the president's business holdings as an opportunity to curry favor.' ___ Follow Slodysko on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BrianSlodysko

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  • Officials are investigating after an explicit video was shared “inadvertently and unknowingly” from a Mississippi teacher’s phone, authorities said. >> Read more trending news  According to a statement from Horn Lake police, the department received information regarding the video Wednesday.  DeSoto County Schools are conducting an investigation into the video, which reportedly showed explicit content of a teacher in the district. Police said if there was a “criminal element regarding the release of the video,” Horn Lake officers will then initiate a full investigation. School officials have not identified the teacher who was seen in the video, and the contents of the video have not been released at this time. The school district did confirm to WHBQ that the teacher involved is no longer an employee there. Again, officials told WHBQ that the video was shared without the teacher’s knowledge.
  • The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is asking for the public's help identifying a suspect they say committed a burglary involving a battery in Arlington. According to police, their investigation has revealed that a suspect entered a victim's home overnight while she was asleep. Police say the suspect woke up the victim, threatened and battered her, and then took some of her belongings.  If you have information on who this individual is, you're urged to contact the sheriff's office at (904) 630-0500 or Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS.
  • In a series of tweets Friday, President Donald Trump announced new retaliatory tariffs against China, bumping up taxes by 5 percentage points.  >> MORE: China, Trump ratchet up tensions with new tariffs >> Read more trending news  Here’s a look at trade tariffs and what they do. What is a tariff? A tariff is a tax on imports or exports that increases their prices. Tariffs are used by governments to make foreign products less attractive to consumers in order to protect domestic industries from competition. Money collected under a tariff is called a duty or customs duty. What types of tariffs are there?There are two types of tariffs – an ad valorem tariff and a specific tariff. An ad valorem tariff is a tariff that is a fixed percentage of the value of an imported good. If the price of the imported good goes up, the ad valorem tariff goes up. If it goes down, the tariff goes down. For instance, if a company exports an item to the United States costing $50 and the ad valorem tariff on that product is 20 percent, the company would have to pay the tariff -- $10 in this case -- to export the product to the U.S. If the price of the item goes up to $75, the company will have to pay a tariff of $15 to sell the item in the US. A specific tariff is a fixed amount of money placed on the item no matter the cost. Say there is a $20 specific tariff on that $50 item. The company exporting the item to the US would have to pay $20 to sell the item in the U.S. If the item goes up in cost to $75, the company will still have to pay $20 to export the item. Why should I care if the US government puts a tariff on items? The manufacturer pays for that, right? Sure, manufacturers pay the tariff upfront, but the cost of the tariff will be passed along to the consumer. Or, if the cost of the tariff is too high for those exporting goods, then they stop exporting goods. Tariffs affect the cost of goods you buy, and the U.S. buys many more products than it sells. So, why slap tariffs on goods if it will hurt the US consumer? The theory is that as goods made by people outside the U.S. get more expensive, manufacturers within the country will either increase their production of the product or other companies will begin to produce the product, thus strengthening the U.S. economy.
  • The Baker County Sheriff's Office is announcing an arrest, following an incident Thursday were a young child was found unresponsive in a hot car. According to the sheriff's office, the 3-year-old boy's mother is now being charged with child neglect. Deputies say 23-year-old Katie Davis failed to provide the toddler with proper care and supervision.  Investigators say the boy's father had been at work all night and went to bed at approximately 7:00 AM, Thursday morning. They say that Davis also went back to sleep around that same time with the child, despite having slept some the night before.  Investigators say when Davis woke up around 1:30 PM, she realized the boy was no longer in the bed. We're told that she then discovered him inside the couple's car outside, where some of his toys had been kept.  Deputies say Davis and her husband were able to get him out by smashing one of the windows and unlocking the doors.  The boy was airlifted to Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville, Thursday afternoon. Deputies said Friday he's recovering and stable.
  • According to many polls, Americans – especially those who say they are Democrats -- are not that fond of the Electoral College. Neither are many of the Democratic candidates for president. >> Read more trending news  With just over 14 months until the 2020 presidential election, a movement to change the way electoral votes are awarded and who will be elected president has gained some steam. The National Popular Vote Compact (NPV), which has its roots in the most contested presidential election in U.S. history, sets in state law a policy that awards all a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote. Under the Electoral College system used today, 48 states have a “winner-take-all” system that awards all the state’s electoral votes to the person who gets a majority of votes in that state. The Electoral College does not take into consideration that national popular vote. Sixteen states, along with the District of Columbia, have passed the NPV agreement. They are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island. While legislation has been passed in the 16 states and the District of Columbia, the agreement would not go into effect until states with a collective 270 electoral votes — the number needed to win the presidency — agree to join. Currently, the District of Columbia and the 16 states in the agreement hold a combined total of 196 electoral votes, meaning the pact would need enough new state members to get 74 electoral votes.Supporters say the system would give the person who got the most votes country-wide the presidency he or she deserves. Opponents say states would be forced to hand over electoral votes to a candidate who did not win that state. For instance, in the 2016 election, a state such as Florida, in which President Donald Trump earned more votes, would have had to pledge its 29 electoral votes to Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, who won the national popular vote in the 2016 election. The Electoral College of today was established by the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution which replaced the method for electing the president and vice president provided in Article II, Section 1, Clause 3. Under the system, when voters cast a ballot for president, they are actually choosing members of the Electoral College, called electors, who are pledged to that presidential candidate. Following the election for president, electors then meet to choose the president. Electors almost always vote for their state’s popular vote winner, and some states have laws requiring them to do so. However, electors are not bound by federal law to vote for a specific candidate – for instance, the one who won the popular vote in their state. In 29 states and the District of Columbia, electors are bound by state law or by a pledge they sign to vote for the candidate who won the popular vote of the state they represent. Five men have won the presidency in the Electoral College while not winning the country’s popular vote: John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016. The National Popular Vote campaign goes back to Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore's loss to Bush in 2000, according to The Associated Press. Gore won the popular vote but lost the election over a vote count in Florida.

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