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    Long before President Donald Trump turned up the heat on four Democratic congresswomen of color, saying they should 'go back' to their home countries, hateful rhetoric and disinformation about the self-described squad was lurking online. Racist, inflammatory and inaccurate content has circulated on far right blogs, news sites and social media accounts about Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and her three freshman colleagues since they ran for public office. With his tweets and harsh comments, Trump has elevated that rhetoric, playing into a conspiratorial feedback loop that reared its head repeatedly during his campaign and presidency. Trump rose to conservative prominence by falsely claiming former President Barack Obama, the first black president, wasn't born in the country. Since then, he has promoted claims and memes that originated in the darkest corners of the internet while fueling new ones of his own. His latest targets are Omar and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. In his Sunday tweets , Trump claimed, without identifying the women by name, that the minority legislators 'originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe.' He suggested they should 'go back' to those 'totally broken and crime infested places,' even though three of the four were born in the U.S. and all are U.S. citizens. He has since questioned the women's allegiance to their country, accusing them of hating America and promoting terrorism while suggesting they should leave America if they're unhappy here. For some, the Republican president's tweets were shocking. But for others, they were just an average day on Facebook or Twitter, where allegations that Omar was not legitimately elected, is not a U.S. citizen and committed immigration fraud have festered in far right chatrooms, blogs and social media sites since she was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2016. 'This is the agenda of white nationalists, whether it is happening in chat rooms or it's happening on national TV,' Omar said this week. 'And now it's reached the White House garden.' Omar was born in Somalia and immigrated to the U.S. as a refugee in 1995 when she was a child. She became a U.S. citizen in 2000 at age 17. The rumors about her have been spread by dozens of conservative social media figures and bloggers, including Michelle Malkin and Laura Loomer, the latter now banned from Facebook. In February, self-described far right social media influencers Jacob Wohl and Loomer flew to Minneapolis, where they provided live updates on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook of their trip to 'investigate' Omar's past and immigration status. Even seemingly everyday citizens have taken to social media to upload their own theories on Omar's background, with one Minnesota woman posting a video months ago on Facebook sharing 'proof' Omar is not a U.S. citizen. The video has been watched more than 50,000 times. Trump also repeated a contested claim, characterizing as 'fact' that Omar had married her brother, before acknowledging that he really didn't know. 'Well, there's a lot of talk about the fact that she was married to her brother,' Trump said this week in response to a question posed by a conservative news outlet. 'I know nothing about it. I hear she was married to her brother. You're asking me a question about it. I don't know, but I'm sure that somebody will be looking at that.' Omar has described such allegations as 'disgusting lies.' She has declined to provide access to immigration records, birth certificates or other documents that could verify her family history. Omar, the biggest target of online vitriol among the four legislators, has made comments that raise eyebrows, including a remark this spring in which she referenced the Sept. 11 attacks by saying that 'some people did something.' She was also criticizing for asking a judge in 2016 to show leniency toward a man accused of trying to join the Islamic State. But other allegations have been provably false. Before they took office, for instance, Omar and Tlaib, the first Muslim women elected to Congress , were dogged by false online allegations that they were so anti-American they did not intend to take the oath of office. Others tried to delegitimize Omar in memes that falsely claim Obama resettled 70,000 Somali refugees in Minnesota in an effort to ensure her election. In fact, the state received 6,320 Somali refugees during the Obama administration. A similar inaccurate claim was later floated online about Iraqi refugees in Tlaib's home state of Michigan. Other comments by the women have been taken widely out of context. Around February, social media users and fringe sites began circulating an edited 2013 clip that they said showed Omar 'laughing' at al-Qaida and admitting to taking a 'terrorism' class. The full context of the 28-minute interview, originally broadcast on a local Minneapolis TV station, shows she was talking about a U.S. college course and was making a point about how the Arabic language had been hijacked by extremist groups to mean something negative. In the 2016 presidential election, Russians relied on a similar online playbook, deploying anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in an effort to boost Trump's prospects. Racially divisive content was the biggest component of the Russian disinformation campaign, according to Ian Vanderwalker, counsel for the Democracy Program at the nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice. One Facebook post linked to a Russian agent, for instance, featured a group of women walking in headdresses and asked: 'What are they hiding?' 'A lot of it was fearmongering that was intended to mobilize right-leaning voters,' Vanderwalker said. 'Some of it was similar to or echoed themes in Trump's own campaign.' He predicted Russians would revive racially fraught social media content in 2020. Negative sentiment about the four congresswomen has migrated into more mainstream outlets recently. Last week, just days before Trump's incendiary tweets, Fox News host Tucker Carlson described Omar on his show as having 'undisguised contempt for the United States.' The president's comments, in turn, appear to have inspired even more negative online rhetoric, including a new batch of Facebook and Twitter posts that describe Omar as a 'terrorist.' Memes also have emerged calling the women 'anti-American' and 'enemies within.' One mock movie poster labels the women 'The Jihad Squad' and includes the tagline: 'Political Jihad is their game.' The attacks are part of a pattern for Trump, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of a recent book about how Russian hackers and trolls influenced Trump's election. She pointed to Trump's birther claims against Obama, which she said suggested 'he doesn't belong here, he belongs somewhere else,' as well as Trump's unfounded claims in 2016 that Hillary Clinton and Obama were co-founders of the Islamic State group. Chants at the president's rallies — such as 'Lock her up!' in reference to Clinton or the newly minted 'Send her back!' refrain for Omar — emerge because Trump has cast the women as enemies of the nation, Jamieson said. The result, she said, is to discredit 'the loyalty, patriotism and ability to act on behalf of the U.S. of an elected official.' ___ Seitz reported from Chicago. Follow Seitz and Colvin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmandaSeitz1 and https://twitter.com/colvinj .
  • Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee who will question former special counsel Robert Mueller next week plan to focus on a narrow set of episodes laid out in his report, an effort to direct Americans' attention to what they see as the most egregious examples of President Donald Trump's conduct. The examples from the Mueller report include Trump's directions to White House counsel Donald McGahn to have Mueller removed and, later, orders from Trump to McGahn to deny that happened. Democrats also will focus questioning on a series of meetings Trump had with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in which the Republican president directed Lewandowski to persuade then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit Mueller's investigation. Mueller laid out several episodes in which Trump tried to influence his investigation and wrote that he could not exonerate the president on obstruction of justice. Democratic aides say they believe the McGahn and Lewandowski narratives, explained in detail in the 448-page report, are clear examples of such obstruction and will be easy to understand as lawmakers try to educate the American public on a report that they believe most people haven't read. The aides requested anonymity to freely discuss members' plans for questioning. The House Judiciary and intelligence committees will question Mueller in back-to-back hearings July 24. The testimony had been scheduled for July 17 but was delayed under a new deal struck with Mueller last week that would give him more time to prepare and give members more time for questioning. Still, time will be extremely limited, with an expected three hours for the Judiciary committee and two for the smaller intelligence committee. Some members on the Judiciary panel could have less than the regular five minutes for questioning. Besides the time restraints, Mueller is a reluctant witness. He had said he would prefer not to come at all and has insisted he will stick only to the contents of the report. So, to effectively highlight what they see as the most damaging parts of the report, Democratic lawmakers said Thursday that they will have to do something that members of Congress aren't used to doing: limit the long speeches and cut to the chase. 'Members just need to focus,' said Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley, a Democratic member of the intelligence panel. 'Nobody's watching them. Keep it short, keep focused, listen to each other, work together. Make this as productive as possible.' Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat on the Judiciary committee, predicted: 'You will find little or no editorializing or speechifying by the members. This is all about allowing special counsel Mueller to speak.' Democrats on the committee said they have been working with committee staff on which members will ask what. The staff wants to make sure that they ask targeted questions, such as on Trump's directions to McGahn and Lewandowski. 'It's going to be fairly scripted,' said Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, another Democrat on the Judiciary panel. 'The main goal is to get Robert Mueller to say what Robert Mueller wrote in the Mueller report. And then get it on national TV, so people can hear him saying it.' The Judiciary Committee aides said that they want lawmakers to take multiple pieces of information in Mueller's report and connect the dots for viewers. Besides the episodes with McGahn and Lewandowski, they said lawmakers also will focus on the president's conduct toward his former lawyer Michael Cohen and his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, both of whom faced federal charges as part of Mueller's probe and are now in prison. The report looks at how Trump praised both men when he perceived they were on his side, contacting Cohen to tell him to 'stay strong' and publicly praising Manafort for 'refusing to break.' There also were subtle hints that he could pardon each. Cohen eventually started cooperating with the government, and Trump then publicly called him a 'rat' and suggested his family members had committed crimes. Democrats on the House intelligence panel are expected to focus on the first volume of Mueller's report, which details multiple contacts between Trump's campaign and Russia. Mueller found that there was not enough evidence to establish a conspiracy between the two, prompting Trump's steady refrains of 'no collusion.' House intelligence committee aides, who also declined to be identified to discuss the confidential preparations, said they believe the public has received a slanted view of what Mueller found because of Trump's repeated comments, and that the details of Russia's interference in the election — and the outreach to the Trump campaign — haven't gotten enough attention. Lawmakers on that panel are expected to focus on those contacts and on what the report says about WikiLeaks, the website that released Democratic emails stolen by the Russians. As the Democrats methodically work through the highlights of the report, it could start to feel a bit like a class: Mueller 101. Raskin, a longtime constitutional law professor, says he plans to use some visual aids, like posters, to help people better understand what Mueller wrote. 'We have different kinds of learners out there,' Raskin said. 'And we want people to learn, both in an auditory way but also in a visual way, about these dramatic events that Mueller will be discussing.' Republicans are preparing as well and are expected to focus more on Mueller's conclusions — that there isn't enough evidence of a conspiracy and no charges on obstruction — than the individual episodes detailed. The top Republican on the Judiciary panel, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, said his members will be asking questions that aim to confirm what is in the report. But while the Democrats are eagerly anticipating the opportunity, many of the Republicans are weary. 'Frankly the American people have moved on,' Collins said. They 'want to get it behind us.
  • Donald Trump has been very good for Virginia Democrats. Voters unhappy with the Republican president, particularly in suburban areas, powered historic Democratic gains in the state House two years ago. Last year the same energy helped Virginia Democrats knock out three incumbent members of Congress. But hovering over this year's closely watched legislative elections is one key question: Has the Trump effect worn off? There are signs it may have. Lower-than-hoped-for turnout in Democratic primaries last month worried some party officials. 'That is the big thing I wrestle with every single day: Do we have the same intensity that we had in '17?' said former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who has been actively raising money and campaigning with state Democrats this year. Republicans are cautiously optimistic that Trump, having been in office for more than two years now, will have less of an impact on voters this year. 'I hear very little about President Trump at the door,' said Rich Anderson, a Republican who lost his state House seat in 2017 and is going door-to-door this year to get it back. 'It's just a completely different discussion.' Virginia's legislative elections are high stakes. Just four states are having elections this year and Virginia is the only one where Democrats have a chance of flipping control of the statehouse. Republicans currently have a majority in both chambers. And the winners of this year's election will have a major say in the next round of redistricting in 2021, which could affect the outcome of both state and congressional races for a decade. McAuliffe said several 2020 presidential candidates have called him asking how they can help Virginia Democratic candidates. 'People realize that (2019), this is it,' he said. 'This will set a big marker for 2020.' Two years ago, an anti-Trump wave helped Democrats win all three statewide seats and 15 seats in the state House. It also previewed the trend in the 2018 midterm congressional election that gave Democrats the majority of the U.S. House . But Republicans cite many reasons why there won't be a repeat this year. Those reasons include the fact that there are no statewide races to increase turnout, which on a whole tends to hurt Democrats. And state Democrats are also still dealing with the fallout from a series of scandals in February that almost forced some of the party's top leaders from office. Gov. Ralph Northam is still politically weakened from a racist yearbook scandal and Democrats are still divided on whether to support Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax after two women publicly accused him of sexual assault, which he has denied. Northam's fundraising ability has diminished, while Democrats are divided about whether to push for Fairfax's impeachment. Republicans have been eager to seize on those scandals while also arguing that Democrats have become too liberal in the Trump era — particularly on social issues— to appeal to more moderate voters. One example is guns. GOP lawmakers have accused Democrats of trying to use a mass shooting earlier this year in Virginia Beach to pass strict new gun-control laws. A special session on gun control abruptly shut down shortly after it opened earlier this month. 'Do we want Virginia to turn into California or New York?' Republican Sen. Glen Sturtevant asked in a recent email to supporters. His suburban Richmond district is a top target of Democrats. Democrats have embraced fights on guns or abortion with Republicans, arguing that the state GOP supports an 'extreme' agenda that's similar to the president's. Democrats said that while there may be 'Trump fatigue' among some voters, there are still concrete signs they still have clear advantages headed into November. 'What we're seeing is a shift from rabid enthusiasm, which tends to be more temporary, to a quiet resolve, which is of a more permanent nature,' said Sen. Dave Marsden. Democrats have out-fundraised Republicans this year and have fielded a large crop of candidates to challenge incumbents. Marsden said Virginia's growing immigrant population has been particularly motivated to run for office or help Democratic candidates. And while off-year elections tend to favor Republicans, Virginia's demographic trends have been helping Democrats for years. The state's growing cities and suburbs are becoming more diverse and liberal, while conservative-leaning rural parts of the state are losing political clout. Republicans haven't been able to win a statewide election in a decade. 'People are not having trouble getting volunteers to get out and knock doors,' Marsden said.
  • President Donald Trump has chided his supporters who chanted 'send her back' when he questioned the loyalty of a Somali-born congresswoman, joining widespread criticism of the campaign crowd's cry after Republicans warned about political blowback from the angry scene. In a week that has been full of hostile exchanges over race and love of country on both sides, Trump also claimed he had tried to stop the chant at a reelection event Wednesday night in North Carolina — though video shows otherwise. The crowd's 'send her back' shouts resounded for 13 seconds as Trump made no attempt to interrupt them. He paused in his speech and surveyed the scene, taking in the uproar. 'I started speaking really quickly,' he told reporters Thursday. 'I was not happy with it. I disagree with it' and 'would certainly try' to stop any similar chant at a future rally. The taunt's target — Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — responded defiantly Thursday. She told reporters at the Capitol that she believes the president is a 'fascist' and cast the confrontation as a fight over 'what this country truly should be.' 'We are going to continue to be a nightmare to this president because his policies are a nightmare to us. We are not deterred. We are not frightened,' she told a cheering crowd that greeted her like a local hero at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as she returned from Washington. The back-and-forth captured the potential impacts of Trump's willingness to inject racist rhetoric into his reelection fight. Trump's allies distanced themselves from the chant, fretting over the voters it might turn off in next year's election and beyond. Democrats, meanwhile, pointed to the episode as a rallying cry to energy and mobilize their supporters to vote Trump out of office. 'We are ready,' Omar said to cheers, before heading to a town hall on Medicare for All. Trump started the week's tumult by tweeting Sunday that Omar and three other freshmen congresswomen could 'go back' to their native countries if they were unhappy here. His other targets — all Trump detractors — were Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. All are American citizens, and all but Omar was born in the U.S. She fled to America as a child with her family from violence-wracked Somalia. The president did not back down from that criticism on Thursday. They have 'a big obligation and the obligation is to love your country,' he said. 'There's such hatred. They have such hatred.' The chants at the Trump rally brought scathing criticism from GOP lawmakers as well as from Democrats, though the Republicans did not fault Trump himself. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California declared that the chant has 'no place in our party and no place in this country.' Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois tweeted that it was 'ugly, wrong, & would send chills down the spines of our Founding Fathers. This ugliness must end, or we risk our great union.' Citing Trump's rhetoric, House Democrats said they were discussing arranging security for Omar and the three other congresswomen. Even by Trump's standards, the campaign rally offered an extraordinary tableau for American politics: a president drinking in a crowd's cries to expel a congresswoman from the country who's his critic and a woman of color. It was also the latest demonstration of how Trump's verbal cannonades are capable of dominating the news. Democrats had hoped the spotlight on Thursday would be on House passage of legislation to boost the minimum wage for the first time in a decade. To many GOP ears, this time the attention wasn't all positive. Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, a conservative who attended Trump's rally, told reporters at the Capitol that the chant 'does not need to be our campaign call like we did 'Lock her up' last time.' That was a reference to a 2016 campaign mantra that Trump continues to encourage aimed at that year's Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. Walker, who called the chant 'offensive,' was among about 10 House GOP leaders who had breakfast Thursday with Vice President Mike Pence at Pence's residence in Washington. Walker said he cautioned Pence that attention to the chant could distract voters next year from the economy and other themes Republicans want to emphasize. 'We don't need to take it that far where we change the narrative of the story,' he said he told Pence. The lawmakers attending agreed that the chant was inappropriate and could prove a harmful distraction, and Pence concurred and said he'd discuss it with Trump, said another participant who described the conversation on condition of anonymity. In North Carolina, Trump berated each of the four congresswomen and said: 'They never have anything good to say. That's why I say, 'Hey if you don't like it, let 'em leave, let 'em leave.'' He added, 'I think in some cases they hate our country.' His criticism of Omar included a false accusation that she has voiced pride in al-Qaida. ___ Associated Press writers Padmananda Rama, Kathleen Hennessey, Zeke Miller, Deb Riechmann and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.
  • President Donald Trump has selected lawyer Eugene Scalia, the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to be his new labor secretary. Trump tweeted news of the planned nomination on Thursday evening, less than a week after his previous secretary, Alexander Acosta, resigned amid renewed criticism of his handling of a 2008 secret plea deal with wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein. The financier was indicted this month on charges of sexually abusing underage girls and pleaded not guilty. 'Gene has led a life of great success in the legal and labor field and is highly respected not only as a lawyer, but as a lawyer with great experience' working 'with labor and everyone else,' Trump wrote of Scalia, who is currently a partner in the Washington office of the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher firm. In private practice, Scalia has been known for his challenges to federal regulations on behalf of corporate clients. Scalia's law firm biography cites his 'success bringing legal challenges to federal agency actions.' If confirmed, Scalia will be returning to the department where he previously served as solicitor in President George W. Bush's administration, overseeing litigation and legal advice on rulemakings and administrative law. He has also worked for the U.S. Department of Justice. From 1992-93, Scalia served as a special assistant to Attorney General William Barr during his first stint as attorney general. Trump had previously announced that Acosta would be succeeded in an acting capacity by his deputy, Patrick Pizzella. Within hours of Trump's announcement, divisions surfaced between Republicans and Democrats about Scalia's nomination. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York tweeted that Trump was 'missing an opportunity to nominate a fighter for workers, like a union member, to be America's next Labor Secretary. Instead, he has again chosen someone who has proven to put corporate interests over those of worker rights.' Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas tweeted that Scalia was 'an outstanding lawyer who has vigorously defended the Constitution over a long career in government and private practice. I'm confident he'll be a champion for working Americans against red tape and burdensome regulation as Labor Secretary.' Scalia did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. Acosta's resignation extended the record turnover at the highest levels of Trump's administration, with acting secretaries at key departments, including Defense and Homeland Security. Roughly two-thirds of the Cabinet has turned over by the two-and-a-half-year mark of Trump's term.
  • President Donald Trump announced Thursday that he will nominate lawyer Eugene Scalia, the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to be his new labor secretary. Trump tweeted the news Thursday evening, less than a week after his previous secretary, Alexander Acosta, resigned amid renewed criticism of his handling of a 2008 secret plea deal with wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was indicted earlier this month for sexually abusing underage girls. 'Gene has led a life of great success in the legal and labor field and is highly respected not only as a lawyer, but as a lawyer with great experience' working 'with labor and everyone else,' Trump wrote of Scalia, who is currently a partner in the Washington office of the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher firm. If confirmed, it will be a return to the department, where Scalia previously served as solicitor in President George W. Bush's administration, overseeing litigation and legal advice on rulemakings and administrative law. He has also worked for the U.S. Department of Justice. Trump had previously announced that Acosta would be succeeded in an acting capacity by his deputy, Patrick Pizzella. Scalia did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
  • The Latest on asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border (all times local): 7:45 p.m. The acting head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection says the Trump administration's new policy banning most asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border is being rolled out as a pilot program. Mark Morgan said in an interview Thursday with NPR that the program is beginning in the Rio Grande Valley and officials there have been briefed on changes. The new rules went into effect Tuesday and apply to all asylum seekers. The rules say migrants arriving at the Southern border are barred from asking for asylum if they have passed through another country first. There are some exceptions, such as if a migrant has been the victim of severe human trafficking. Morgan's agency is responsible for initial encounters with migrants, but the asylum officers who will decide on a migrant's eligibility work under U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. ___ 3 p.m. A top Trump administration official says the number of family separations at the border has fallen since last summer's zero tolerance policy, and they are done only for compelling reasons. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said fewer than 1,000 children have been separated from families out of 450,000 family groups that have crossed the border since October. He said they are separated because of health and safety concerns, among other reasons. McAleenan was speaking Thursday before the House Oversight Committee investigating border problems.
  • Joe Biden was at a soul food restaurant in Los Angeles on Thursday when he blasted President Donald Trump's 'racist' taunts at a rally the night before. 'This is about dividing the country,' the early Democratic front-runner, who has been criticized for his own handling of race , told reporters. 'This is about dividing and raising the issue of racism across the country because that's his base, that's what he's pushing.' But Michael Fisher, an African American pastor from Compton who attended the event, warned Democrats to ignore Trump. 'They should absolutely not respond to ignorance,' Fischer said. 'They should stay focused on the issues.' That tension previews the uncomfortable balancing act Democrats will face in the nearly 16 months before Election Day. Trump's escalating exploitation of racism puts the rawest divide in American life squarely on the ballot in 2020. Democrats are united in condemning his words and actions, but the question of how to counter them is much more complicated. The party's passionate left wing is pressing for an all-in battle, arguing that candidates' plans to combat racism are just as important as their proposals to provide health insurance to every American. But others question whether race should be the centerpiece of the campaign to replace Trump. Several presidential candidates, meanwhile, reject the debate as a false choice, arguing they can criticize Trump for racist tactics while still advancing proposals on health care, education, the minimum wage and more. The emotionally charged developments shook both political parties on Thursday, a day after Trump continued his verbal assault against four minority congresswomen, this time at a raucous rally in North Carolina. The president's supporters chanted 'Send her back!' after Trump criticized Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Muslim who fled to the U.S. as a child from violence-wracked Somalia. While Trump tried to distance himself from the chant on Thursday, it echoed his own comments from earlier in the week when he said the 'squad' of four young Democratic congresswomen, including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, should 'go back' to their 'crime-infested places' overseas. They are all American citizens. After successfully campaigning on health care during last year's midterm elections, Democrats hoped to adopt a similar 'kitchen table' strategy going into 2020 that would focus on issues that appeal to all voters. Yet Trump has forced them into a moment of decision that could send the party in a far less certain direction. The challenge was clear Thursday when Trump's remarks consumed the 2020 debate even as Democrats on Capitol Hill voted to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. The vote was the latest move by Democrats to highlight their work on more traditional issues that helped them seize the House majority last fall. Yet it barely made a ripple in the national debate. 'Trump is forcing the hand of Democratic Party leaders thinking they could thread the needle. They can't. He's holding Klan rallies,' said Aimee Allison, who leads She the People, an advocacy group focused on women of color. 'We have to be strong in the face of that and unafraid.' Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher said that to pretend racism and division aren't top-tier concerns for voters is a fallacy. 'This is just as important an issue for Democrats to engage and win on as health care, education and wages,' he said, pointing out that Democrats got 9 million more votes than Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections. 'That wasn't because voters all of a sudden fell in love with Democrats. That was about the direction of this country and people being uncomfortable and alarmed with what's happening with the Republican Party under Trump.' But others question whether to follow Trump into the racial debate at all, concerned about alienating white working-class voters who may have backed Trump in the past and are uncomfortable with allegations of racism or bigotry. 'Calling him racist, which he is, I don't know if that helps,' said North Carolina-based Democratic strategist Gary Pearce. He called Trump's message 'profoundly disturbing, but I know it works.' In the battleground state of Wisconsin, Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler called on his party to take a cautious approach by explaining that Trump is using racism to distract voters from failing policies. 'Trump's use of racism as a political weapon is his only strategy to distract the public from the No. 1 issue in 2018, which was health care,' Wikler said. 'He can't claim that he stands for working people in 2020.' Most of the Democratic Party's crowded 2020 class weighed in on the Trump-race question — some more aggressively than others. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren left no doubt about her position: '#IStandWithIlhan against attacks from this racist president,' she tweeted. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who is black, condemned Trump's attacks on the squad but also sought to distance himself from Ocasio-Cortez's description of immigrant detention centers along the southern border as 'concentration camps.' 'I would not choose that, because you start to begin to create historical comparisons that I do not think are constructive,' he said. 'But (the spirit is) pointing out the outrageous assault on humanity that's going on within our own borders . It's an assault on the humanity of all of us.' New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called Trump 'un-American.' 'His constant attacks on women of color in Congress just show what a small, weak president he is,' she said in a brief interview, while trying to pivot to the economy. 'You can talk about both,' she said. 'Absolutely. You have to. You have to lead on both issues.' Juan Rodriguez, the campaign manager for Kamala Harris, said the California senator would call out Trump on the campaign trail for 'vile and reprehensible' comments at every opportunity but would also talk about her policy solutions. Harris will 'not be distracted by a person, who, the way she'd characterize, is weak and wants to stoke fear,' Rodriguez said. Republicans, too, are grappling with the racial debate that could have profound long-term consequences on the GOP's ability to win elections in an increasingly diverse nation. Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, who called the chant 'offensive,' was among about 10 House GOP leaders who had breakfast Thursday with Vice President Mike Pence in Washington. Walker said he cautioned Pence that attention to the chant could distract voters next year from the economy and other themes Republicans want to emphasize. Pence concurred and said he would discuss it with Trump, said another participant in the meeting who described the conversation on condition of anonymity. Publicly, however, the overwhelming majority of Republican elected officials stood behind the president or offered tepid criticism. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested Trump's critics were going too far by accusing him of racism. 'We ought to tone the rhetoric down across the country using — throwing around words like racism, you know, kind of routinely applying it to almost everything,' he told Fox Business Network. ___ Whack reported from Philadelphia and Peoples reported from New York. Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Zeke Miller and Elana Schor in Washington and Michelle L. Price in Las Vegas contributed to this report.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency rejected a key legal challenge Thursday to a pesticide linked to brain damage in children, saying environmental groups had failed to prove that a ban was warranted. The agency's defense of continued use of the widely used bug-killer chlorpyrifos could set the stage for a pivotal federal court decision on whether to overrule the EPA and force the agency to ban it. 'To me, this starts the clock on the use of chlorpyrifos on food crops in the US,' said former senior EPA attorney Kevin Minoli. Scientists say studies have shown that chlorpyrifos damages the brains of fetuses and children. The pesticide has been used nationally on dozens of food crops, but California — the nation's largest agricultural state — and a handful of other states have recently moved to ban it. The agency said the environmental groups had failed to prove that the pesticide wasn't safe. Last summer, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the EPA to ban all sales of the pesticide. The court decided to reconsider that ruling with a slate of 11 judges, who gave the EPA until this month to respond to the environmental groups' arguments for banning chlorpyrifos. The EPA under the Obama administration had initiated a ban, but the agency reversed that decision shortly after President Donald Trump took office. The EPA defense Thursday showed that 'as long as the Trump administration is in charge, this EPA will favor the interests of the chemical lobby over children's safety,' said Ken Cook, head of the Environmental Working Group environmental advocacy organization. In a statement, the EPA said it was separately speeding up a regular agency review of the pesticide's continued use, and expected a decision on that well ahead of a 2022 deadline. The EPA said it also was talking with chlorpyrifos makers about further restrictions on how farmers use the pesticide.
  • The second set of summer Democratic presidential debates will feature a rematch with a twist, plus the first showdown of leading progressives as the party wrestles with its philosophical identity and looks ahead to a 2020 fight against President Donald Trump. Former Vice President Joe Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris will take center stage in Detroit on July 31, barely a month after Harris used the first debates to propel herself into the top tier with an aggressive takedown of the 76-year-old Biden's long record on race. CNN, which is broadcasting the debates, assigned candidates randomly with a drawing Thursday night, with 20 candidates spread evenly over two nights, July 30-31. This time, Harris, the lone black woman in the field, will be joined by another top black candidate, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who also has been an outspoken critic of Biden. Booker had denounced Biden for his recollections of the 'civility' of working in a Senate that included white supremacists and for his leadership on a 1994 crime bill that the New Jersey senator assailed as a mass incarceration agent in the black community. Meanwhile, Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts lead the July 30 lineup, allowing the two progressive icons to compete directly for the affections of the party's left flank. They will be joined by several more moderate candidates who are likely to question the senators' sweeping proposals for single-payer health insurance and tuition-free college, among other plans. Biden vs. Harris has quickly become the defining candidate-on-candidate juxtaposition in the early months of the contest. Although of different sexes, races and generations, the two rivals share the same broad path to the nomination, particularly the broad coalition of white and black voters necessary to win the Southern primaries that dominate the early months of the nominating calendar. Harris' June attacks on Biden's 1970s opposition to federal busing orders as a way to desegregate public schools was a way for her to stand out to liberal whites and to try to cut into Biden's strength in the black community, where he is lauded as the loyal vice president to Barack Obama, the nation's first black president. To be clear, Biden aides say Harris' broadsides sparked a new aggressiveness and determination for the former vice president, and he's gone on a policy offensive in recent weeks, most notably on health care. A proponent of adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges, Biden almost certainly will try to pin down Harris on her support for Sanders' 'Medicare for All' proposal. Harris, though, has stopped short of Sanders' explicit call for abolishing private insurance, and she insists that the plan can be paid for without any tax hikes on the middle class. Biden and Harris will be joined on the stage July 31 by Booker; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; Colorado Gov. Michael Bennet; former Obama Cabinet member Julián Castro; New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand; Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Flanking Sanders and Warren on the stage July 30 will be Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana; former Maryland Rep. John Delaney; former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke; Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan; and author Marianne Williamson. Delaney and Hickenlooper have been among the most outspoken moderates warning Democrats against a leftward lurch. Klobuchar, Bullock and Buttigieg also position themselves as more centrist than Warren and Sanders. A generational split also will be on display: Buttigieg, 37, and O'Rourke, 46, each have called for the party to pass the torch, while Sanders, at 77, is more than twice the young mayor's age. Warren, meanwhile, recently turned 70. It will be the first debate opportunity for Bullock, who takes the spot that California Rep. Eric Swalwell had in June before dropping out in recent weeks. Another late entry to the race, billionaire activist Tom Steyer, did not meet the polling or fundraising thresholds required for the July debate. For several of the longshot candidates, the July debates are critical. The Democratic National Committee is doubling the polling and fundraising requirements to make the stage in the next round of debates, scheduled for September in Houston and October in a city yet to be announced. As of now, it's likely those higher standards would mean many of the 20 candidates on stage in Detroit won't have a place in Houston. ___ Follow Barrow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP

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  • Today will be hot and humid with highs in the lower to mid 90’s inland and near 90 at the coast. There will be scattered afternoon thunderstorms today. Feels-like temps will once again be 100-103 inland and 100+ at the coast.  Showers and storms may dampen some early tailgaters for The Rolling Stones concert (2-5 pm).  Showers and any thunderstorms should either be out of Duval County or loosing steam by 6 pm.  CONTEST:  Pick what song you want to hear The Stones play This weekend the heat and humidity stick around with highs in the mid 90’s with only a few widely scattered showers and storms. The mid 90’s hang around on Monday.  INDEPTH:  What you need to know if you are going to the concert
  • An airman was reportedly shot in the leg Thursday night at Nellis Air Force Base. >>Read more trending news The airman was taken to a hospital with survivable injuries, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Lt. Adrian Beas told The Las Vegas Review-Journal. The circumstances surrounding the incident are unclear. Police were called shortly after 9:30 p.m. and found the injured airman near the O’Callaghan Federal Hospital, Beas said. Police and base personnel are investigating how the shooting happened, KVVU-TV reported.
  • UPDATE:  Jacksonville Police has found the missing girls who were the center of a Missing Child Alert activated late Thursday night. Police say the two girls were found safe together in Clay County. According to JSO, the case is being worked as a recovery of runaways. The Clay County Sheriff’s Office says both girls are being spoken with.    ===ORIGINAL STORY:  The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has issued a Missing Child Alert 11-year-old  Addison Terry.  JSO had reported the young girl was missing on Thursday after she ran away from the Youth Crisis Center on Parental Road on the Southside Wednesday night. YCC is not commenting on the specifics on how the child ran off or why she was with them, to begin with. According to the FDLE, Terry maybe with 16-year-old Jade Seidel. JSO says Seidel is another missing teen. The two were last seen in the area of Argyle Forest Boulevard but added they could be headed to Clay County. Anyone with information about their whereabouts is asked to call the FDLE, JSO, or dial 911.
  • The uncle of missing 16-year-old Iyana Sawyer has now been indicted for two counts of first degree murder, and our partner Action News Jax reports the counts relate to Sawyer and her unborn baby. 16-year-old Sawyer was last seen leaving Terry Parker High School in December. Since that time, her uncle, Johnathan Quiles, has been identified as a suspect in her disappearance. Quiles has been in jail since January, on a separate sexual battery charge. Now, the State Attorney’s Office confirms Quiles has been indicted for two counts of first degree murder and one count of sexual battery. Our partner Action News Jax reports Sawyer’s family’s attorney tells them the murder charges are for the teen and her unborn baby. WOKV is working to get court and police records to confirm and learn more about what led to these charges being filed.
  • A toddler has drowned in a pool, in a residential area of Lakeshore South on Jacksonville’s Westside. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office responded to the home on San Juan Avenue around 2:20PM. Jacksonville Fire and Rescue was also dispatched, and when emergency responders got on scene, they found witnesses performing CPR on the toddler. Rescue personnel took over CPR and transported the toddler to the hospital, where it died. At this time, JSO is not saying if anyone else was in the pool at the time, but foul play is not suspected in the drowning. They’re also not releasing any additional information about the victim, including the age and gender, but police confirmed in a tweet that this involved a toddler. Police are currently speaking with witnesses at the home, as their investigation continues. The Florida Department of Children and Families is also investigating.

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