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    President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi don’t see eye-to-eye on much these days, but in the throes of impeachment, they’re in lockstep on the desire to close out the year by checking off items on their to-do lists. As the uncertain politics of the effort to remove Trump from office collide with critical year-end legislative deadlines, Washington, for the first time in recent memory, appears intent on demonstrating its capacity to multitask. Lawmakers and White House officials are eager to project the image that they've been focused on anything but the polarizing proceedings that are increasingly consuming their days and nights. Even President Donald Trump, no stranger to unpredictability and drama, could only marvel at the week of Washington whiplash. “This has been a wild week,” he said Friday morning as he played host to the president of Paraguay in the Oval Office. On Friday, as the House Judiciary Committee was taking the historic step of passing articles of impeachment against the president. Trump had counter-programming at the ready, announcing new progress on long-delayed negotiations with China to tame an 18-month trade war. “Take note @SpeakerPelosi - this is what real leadership looks like,” tweeted White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, highlighting the “phase-one” deal. It was far from the first split-screen moment of the week. In the span of one hour Tuesday, Pelosi held a press conference to announce articles of impeachment against the president — then swiftly walked down the hall to announce a bipartisan deal to fulfill the president’s top legislative priority of the year, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade. A day later, as the House Judiciary Committee took up the impeachment articles, the full House passed a compromise defense spending bill that would provide federal employees with 12 weeks of paid parental leave, a priority of the president’s daughter. The bill also would bring Trump’s long-promised Space Force to life. The incongruous moments reflect the unease on all sides in Washington about how the polarizing impeachment process will play out politically — and the fact that many voters across the country don’t view impeachment as a high priority. So Democrats and the White House are going all-out to show they can do their day jobs despite the impeachment drama on TV. Washington is set for more of those moments in the coming week, with the anticipated party-line impeachment vote Wednesday sandwiched between Tuesday’s expected passage of a budget bill and Thursday’s thumbs-up for the USMCA. For Pelosi, the decision to give the president those victories appeared aimed at trying to protect her caucus against charges — featured prominently in GOP ads aimed at vulnerable Democrats — that their focus on impeachment has distracted from the bread-and-butter issues that voters care about. Democrats maintain that the issues they’ve made progress on are long-held priorities, like the new parental leave policy for federal employees and stronger labor and environmental protections in the USMCA. “It’s not a coincidence that the USMCA agreement was announced the same morning that the articles of impeachment were introduced,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and partner at Firehouse Strategies, which has been polling how impeachment is playing in crucial battleground states. “I think congressional Democrats in swing districts want to be able to show their constituents that they’ve done more than just impeach the president.' Conant said he expects to see a concerted effort by moderate Democrats to find areas where they can work with Trump, even while they’re impeaching him. “It’s counter-intuitive, but impeachment may actually help the president’s legislative agenda,” he said. Pelosi tied the flurry of legislative activity amid impeachment to the calendar, telling reporters: “It's just that as we get to the end of a session, there have to be some decisions made. The timetable for impeachment is the timetable of the committees and that came to an end with a hearing yesterday.” The spurt of bipartisan legislating hasn't necessarily led to any cooling of political tempers. At the White House, Trump aides highlighted what they called a “week of action,” aiming to use it as a cudgel against Democrats whom they have accused of doing nothing besides impeachment. Trump’s campaign is already planning to include the developments in new ads promoting the president making good on his 2016 campaign promises while Democrats seek his removal. “One can make the argument that President Trump has had the best seven-day run of his presidency despite having two articles of impeachment dropped on him, and that is nothing short of remarkable,” said Jason Miller, a staunch supporter of the president who served as communications director of his 2016 campaign. The Trump narrative conveniently leaves out Democrats’ significant roles in securing many of the week’s achievements. “As we have said since the Do-Nothing Democrats started this kangaroo court, President Donald J. Trump remains focused on the work of the American people, and this week’s unprecedented accomplishments prove that,' said White House spokesman Judd Deere. Conant said the White House was intent on making the argument that 'you shouldn’t impeach a president who is doing a good job.”
  • Kim Motl doesn’t work in the health insurance industry. But her friends and neighbors do. So when she saw Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Motl pressed the Democratic presidential candidate about her “Medicare for All” plan, which would replace private insurance with a government-run system. “What about the little guys that work in the insurance business, that support our communities? The secretary that works for them, but maybe supports their family, what happens to them?” the 64-year-old housing advocate asked the senator. “What happens to all of those people who lose their jobs?” Motl asked in a later interview. Warren reassured her that jobs would not be lost because of her plan. But the exchange is a reminder that while railing against the insurance industry can score points with the progressive Democratic base, it can also alienate potential supporters in Iowa, where voters will usher in the presidential primary in less than two months. Nearly 17,000 Iowans are either directly employed by health insurance companies or employed in related jobs, according to data collected by America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry advocacy group. Des Moines, the seat of the state’s most Democratic county, is known as one of America’s insurance capitals partly because of the high number of health insurance companies and jobs in the metro area. Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield’s health insurance headquarters employs roughly 1,700 in the metro area, and that’s just one of the 16 health insurance companies domiciled in Iowa, according to the Iowa Insurance Division. For many Iowans, the Medicare for All debate is personal, and the prospect of losing a job could influence whom they support in the Feb. 3 caucuses. Tamyra Harrison, vice-chair of the East Polk Democrats, says she has heard worries at her local Democratic meetings about “the effect it would have on people that work in the insurance industry, and those that have small businesses in the area.” “They’re concerned about the repercussions on people living here that maybe the Democrats aren’t thinking of” when they’re talking about eliminating private insurance, she said. The Democrats’ health care plans vary widely in terms of the speed and scope with which they would affect health care industry jobs, but experts say every plan marks a substantial reconfiguring of one of the country’s biggest industry and thus all would affect thousands of jobs nationwide. Some, including Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have called for replacing private insurance with a government plan. Asked about this last month in Iowa, Warren said, “Some of the people currently working in health insurance will work in other parts of insurance — in life insurance, in auto insurance, in car insurance,' or for the new government-run system. She also cited five years of “transition support” for displaced workers built into the plan. Sanders has previously argued that his plan would see 'all kinds of jobs opened up in health care,” and his bill includes a fund to help retrain and transition private insurance workers out of their current jobs. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, would leave room for private insurers, but also include a public option, which they have acknowledged could ultimately put insurance companies out of business. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey is trying to walk a line on the issue, having signed onto Sanders’ Medicare for All bill in the Senate but on the campaign trail shied away from eliminating private insurance entirely. Even those who say they would keep private insurance companies face risks. Buttigieg revealed this week that he worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield in Michigan during his time as a consultant at McKinsey & Co. He said he “doubts” his work contributed to layoffs the company later announced and has instead sought to highlight the impact of his opponents' plans. “There are some voices in the Democratic primary right now who are calling for a policy that would eliminate the job of every single American working at every single insurance company in the country,” he said. Economists say the jobs impact of any shift away from private health care would be felt nationwide by hundreds of thousands of Americans. It's not just jobs at private insurance companies that could be affected; those working on processing insurance claims at hospitals and other administrative health care jobs could be reduced as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, nearly 386,000 Americans were employed by health and medical insurance carriers — but some analysts found the number of jobs lost from eliminating private insurance could be much higher. Economists at the University of Michigan found in an analysis of Sanders’ Medicare for All bill that the jobs of nearly 747,000 health insurance industry workers, and an additional 1.06 million health insurance administrative staffers, would no longer be needed if Medicare for All became law. In Iowa, however, the issue could be particularly problematic. Around Des Moines, “you can’t swing a dead cat without finding someone who works at an insurance provider or a company,” said Mary McAdams, chair of the Ankeny Area Democrats. She said she believes Democrats in her area aren’t as concerned about what would happen to their jobs if private insurance were eliminated because they don’t have much allegiance to their companies to begin with. “They know full well these companies would drop them like a habit,” she said. The economic repercussions of eliminating private insurance jobs could go beyond simply the loss of local jobs, as Paula Dierenfield, a Republican lawyer and the executive director of the Federation of Iowa Insurers, points out. “This is an industry that employs thousands of employees in high-quality jobs,' she said. “All of those employees pay income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, and the companies that they work for also pay millions in premium taxes, as well as property taxes. So it would have a significant impact on the Iowa economy generally as well as here in the Des Moines metro area.' The peripheral effects of eliminating insurance jobs worry Marcia Wannamaker, a real estate agent from West Des Moines who raised her concerns about the fate of private insurance during a recent question-and-answer session with Biden. “It’s really going to cut our jobs,” Wannamaker said. She later noted in an interview that if the private insurance industry shrinks, people working for such companies would lose their jobs. “Then that trickles down to the housing. They’re going to have to move. I just think it’s going to be a disaster,” she said. “When you sell real estate, these people buy homes. It’s just part of how the Iowa — and especially in Des Moines, the economy works.”
  • The most raucous committee in Congress sat stone-faced, barely speaking. One by one, the members around the Judiciary Committee dais voted on the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. Then they bolted for the doors and the airports, in more than one case without a word. The all-business iciness during those eight gavel-to-gavel minutes reflected the gravity of advancing articles of impeachment to the House floor for only the third time in American history. But it also told much of the story about impeachment's toll on Congress, Washington and beyond. Ever since Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukraine's president sparked official proceedings against the president, impeachment has been a force that's bent congressional business around it, with severe strain. No one feels sorry for Congress, and its members generally don't feel sorry for themselves. But the wear-and-tear of impeachment is becoming clear in the emotional exchanges and frayed relationships left in its wake. “I have a problem with this whole damn place. If you can figure out an exit strategy for me I’d appreciate that,' said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., a member of the Judiciary panel, on Friday. “This is crazy. The whole thing is crazy,” he added of impeachment. “It will take some time to get over.' Tempers are short. Members show signs of being sick of each other, like any colleagues who spend too much time together. But they are operating under the glare of a global spotlight and the weight of history. Trust, or what remained of it after years of obstruction and smashmouth Trump-era politics, appeared to be a casualty in the short-term. Thursday's grueling 14-hour Judiciary Committee markup of the abuse and obstruction charges against Trump ignited the smoldering tension. There was no expectation that the articles would be substantially changed, but Trump's allies pushed for amendments, each of which took hours to consider. Democrats, meanwhile, did not want to take final votes too late for Americans to see. Just before midnight, Chairman Jerrold Nadler announced that the committee would not be voting on the impeachment articles until Friday morning — and after he banged his gavel, the microphones were switched off. Livid, Republicans leapt to their feet, yelling “unbelievable” and “sneaky' and talking of a “kangaroo court.” Nadler walked out. “Chairman Nadler's integrity is zero. His staff is zero,” fumed ranking Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia. “This chairman has made himself irrelevant.” The personal stab at the powerful New York House veteran was unusual, as even the most mismatched pairs atop committees typically refrain from attacking each other in personal terms. “I could feel it myself and I know the rest of us did,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean, a new member from Pennsylvania, in an interview Friday with The Associated Press. “That really was sort of the apex of weeks and months of emotional and mental and intellectual toll.” It turns out that impeachment is not the Democratic morale-booster that some might have thought in the heady first days of the party's House takeover this year, when Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib vowed to “impeach the motherf—-er” on her first day in office. One Democrat involved in the impeachment investigation was so dispirited by it all that he decided this term will be his last. “The countless hours I have spent in the investigation of Russian election interference and the impeachment inquiry have rendered my soul weary,” said Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., in his retirement announcement Dec. 4. 'At times, it is as though there are no rules or boundaries. ... Civility is out. Compromise is out. All or nothing is in.' There's a long way to go before knowing which party benefits and which pays for impeachment in the 2020 elections, let alone which fares better in the eyes of history. But trust — by Americans toward Congress — seems to be suffering. And it's not clear the proceedings are changing minds. Recent polling shows that about half the country supports impeaching and removing Trump from office, fitting the pattern of a deeply polarized nation. But the proceedings could be costly for both parties. A plurality of Americans — 44 percent — said they had no trust at all in the House impeachment proceedings, according to a Monmouth University poll conducted in December. The poll also found that about 6 in 10 Americans said Democrats in Congress are more interested in bringing down Trump than pursuing the facts. Likewise, about 6 in 10 said Republicans in Congress are more interested in defending Trump than pursuing the facts. With the stakes so high, emotions are, too. Dean, whose family has grown by two grandchildren since impeachment began in September, grew emotional Friday when she talked about the responsibility of weighing the president's fate. “I've been thinking about the broader horizon,” she said. The same week of Trump's July phone call, she happened to talk on the floor of the House with Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the Oversight Committee Chairman who died in October. Cummings, she said, reminded her that people will know she was here for what's expected to be the third presidential impeachment in American history. “It will matter,” she said. But it will not have come for free. By the time Nadler gaveled the committee back into session Friday morning, the silences and swift proceedings suggested there was nothing left to say, let alone fight about. Nadler sat down, pulled out his cellphone and turned it off. He gaveled in the meeting and launched votes on both articles. During the roll call, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., voted aye while holding up a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution. Collins delivered a scripted notice that he reserves the right to file dissenting views. Nadler dropped the gavel. There was no celebrating or showboating from the Democrats. “The House will act expeditiously,” he said. “Thank you.” He took no questions. ___ Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor, Hannah Fingerhut and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report. ___ Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman
  • After a tumultuous tenure in office, a controversial candidate expanded his grip on power, surpassing a weak opponent and drawing support from unlikely pockets of voters. That’s what happened Thursday in Britain, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party claimed a commanding majority in Parliament, sidelining far-left Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. It’s the same scenario President Donald Trump is eager to replicate in next year’s American election and Democrats are desperate to avoid. After congratulating Johnson on Friday, Trump said of the British results: “I think that might be a harbinger of what’s to come in our country.” Others cautioned against drawing too many lessons from the British elections. Despite deep historical and cultural ties, the U.S. and U.K. have vastly different demographics and systems of government. The contours of the 2020 presidential election are also still evolving, with Democrats choosing between moderates and liberals, experienced politicians and fresh faces, as they weigh who will take on Trump. Still, there are striking parallels, as well as recent precedent, in the political landscape on both sides of the Atlantic. In 2016, British voters stunningly decided in a national referendum to withdraw from the European Union, ignoring dire warnings from political elites about the economic and cultural consequences. Four months later, American voters did the same, sending Trump to the White House over establishment favorite Hillary Clinton. Johnson took up the mantle of the Brexit campaign earlier this year, stepping in as prime minister and drawing immediate comparisons to Trump. The two speak frequently by phone, forging an easier relationship than Trump had with Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May. Johnson faced this week’s campaign with significant liabilities, as will Trump next year. Both men are personally unpopular with wide swaths of their countries’ voters and appear to take some measure of pride in agitating their detractors. Each has a history of making controversial comments, including about women and minorities. And their terms in office have been punctuated by chaos and controversy, including setbacks for Johnson in Parliament and the looming impeachment vote and trial against Trump in Congress. But in their own ways, Trump and Johnson have also proved to be effective communicators and advocates for their priorities, forgoing complex policy proposals for bumper sticker slogans. For Trump, it’s “Make America Great Again” and “Build the Wall.” Johnson campaigned in the election on a pledge to “Get Brexit Done” — a straightforward slogan that belies the complex negotiations still to come with the EU. “It’s simplicity and it’s connecting to something at an emotional level that somebody believes in — whether it’s true or not,” said Heather Conley, a former State Department official and current Europe scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The 2016 Brexit referendum and Trump’s victory rested in part on shifts in traditional voting blocs. Trump pulled a trio of states that have long voted for Democrats in presidential elections into his column: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. In the U.K., working-class towns in central and northern England that have long elected Labour lawmakers turned against the party and backed Brexit. The results in the U.K. this week proved that those shifts were more than an anomaly. Conservatives took a swath of seats in post-industrial former mining, milling and fishing towns that voted for Brexit, though some of those areas had never elected a Tory lawmaker before. On both sides of the Atlantic, much of the blame focused on Corbyn, the deeply unpopular Labour leader with socialist views. Corbyn was criticized for silencing critics within the party and failing to root out anti-Semitism among his supporters. Centrist Labour politicians were quick to call for him to step down following Thursday’s rout. In the U.S., some took Labour’s stinging defeat under Corbyn’s leadership as a warning for more liberal American presidential candidates like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Joe Biden, a more moderate 2020 hopeful and chief rival of Warren and Sanders, predicted the takeaway from the British results would be “look what happens when the Labour Party moves so, so far to the left. It comes up with ideas that are not able to be contained within a rational basis quickly.” Other Democrats argued that opponents of Johnson and the British exit from the European Union muddied their message during the campaign and didn’t do enough to make an affirmative case for their own vision. They also suggested that Johnson’s opponents banked too much on British voters being weary of the chaos and controversy that has accompanied his tenure — all mistakes they fear could follow in the campaign against Trump. “I’m just not convinced that the Democrats are making the case as of right now as to why Donald Trump doesn’t deserve to be reelected,” said Boyd Brown, a Democratic strategist based in South Carolina. Brown said there is a clear message out of the British election for Democrats seeking to defeat Trump next year: “Get your stuff together or this maniac is going to be elected for a second time.” ___ Associated Press writers Jill Lawless in London and Steve Peoples in New York contributed to this report. ___ Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC
  • A Wisconsin judge on Friday ordered that the registration of up to 234,000 voters be tossed out because they may have moved, a victory for conservatives that could make it more difficult for people to vote next year in the key swing state. The judge sided with three voters represented by a conservative law firm who argued the state elections commission should have immediately deactivated any of the roughly 234,000 voters who didn't respond to an October mailing within 30 days. The voters were flagged as having potentially moved. Ozaukee County Judge Paul Malloy denied a request by elections commission attorneys to put his decision on hold. He ordered the state Elections Commission to follow the law requiring voters who didn't respond to be deactivated. “I can’t tell them how to do that, they’re going to have to figure that out,' Malloy said of the commission deactivating the voters. Commission spokesman Reid Magney said in an email to The Associated Press that staff will analyze the judge's decision and consult with commission members on next steps. He didn't elaborate. The judge's ruling comes in the early stages of the case and is expected to be immediately appealed. It's likely to ultimately go to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which is controlled 5-2 by conservatives. The case is important for both sides ahead of the 2020 presidential race in narrowly divided Wisconsin, which President Donald Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016. Liberals fear the voters who could be purged are more likely to be Democrats. Republicans argue allowing them to remain on the rolls increases the risk of voter fraud. The state elections commission, which has an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, is fighting the lawsuit. It argues that the law gives it the power to decide how to manage the voter registration list. It wants to wait until after the April 2021 election before removing anyone, citing concerns that everyone identified may not have moved and removing them would create confusion. The commission also argued that leaving a registered voter on the polls, even if they have moved, does not mean they will actually commit fraud by voting at their old address. The elections commission decided to wait longer than 30 days to deactivate voters because of problems in 2017 after about 343,000 voters were flagged as potential movers. More than 300,000 people who did not respond were deactivated, leading to confusion, anger and complaints. Wisconsin allows same-day voter registration, but it requires photo ID and proof of address. The judge said Wisconsin law clearly required the elections commission to deactivate voters who didn't respond to the mailing within 30 days. The commission had no basis to set a different time frame, he said. “I don’t want to see anybody deactivated, but I don’t write the legislation,' Malloy said. “If you don’t like it, then I guess you have to go back to the Legislature. They didn’t do that.' Karla Keckhaver, an assistant attorney general defending the commission, argued that not putting the ruling on hold pending appeal would create “irreparable harm.” “This would create chaos to do this now,' she said, referring to upcoming elections in February. Rick Esenberg, attorney for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty that brought the case, disagreed, noting that affected voters could re-register online before an election or at the polls. Some of the highest percentages of voters who could be tossed would be in Wisconsin’s two largest cities and areas with college campuses, epicenters of Democratic support, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis found. Milwaukee and Madison, the largest cities and base of Democratic support, account for 23% of the letters that were sent to voters who may have moved. More than half of the letters went to voters in municipalities where Democrat Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in 2016, the analysis found. As of Dec. 5, only about 16,500 of those who received the mailing had registered at their new address. More than 170,000 hadn't responded, and the postal service was unable to deliver notifications to nearly 60,000 voters. While the lawsuit is pending, the commission has asked the Republican-controlled Legislature to provide clarity by passing a law or empowering the commission to create procedures on how to deal with voters who have moved. Wisconsin has about 3.3 million registered voters out of about 4.5 million people of voting age. Next year's presidential race isn't the only high-stakes election that could be affected by the registration lawsuit. Wisconsin has a February primary for a seat on the highly partisan state Supreme Court. The state's presidential primary is in April. ___ Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP
  • Touting his leadership role as an asset for Middle America, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed for reelection Friday as the Kentucky Republican seeks a seventh term next year. McConnell, the longest-serving U.S. senator in Kentucky history, has tied himself closely to President Donald Trump as he prepares to defend himself against a host of Democrats wanting to unseat him. McConnell noted that among the four congressional leaders — the top-ranking Republican and Democratic leaders in both chambers — he's the only one from the U.S. heartland. “What I do is look out for Middle America and, in particular, my favorite state in Middle America — Kentucky,' McConnell told reporters at the state Capitol. Talking about issues that hit home for Kentuckians, McConnell touted his role in making hemp a legal crop, saying the versatile plant might someday “be like tobacco used to be' as a staple for bluegrass state farmers. Kentucky has been at the national forefront of hemp's comeback among growers and processors. The senator said he has steered hundreds of millions of federal dollars to Kentucky to help combat opioid abuse in a state plagued by drug problems. McConnell also has been a key ally of Trump in putting conservative judges on the federal bench. As usual, McConnell has amassed a massive campaign fund, as has his highest-profile Democratic challenger, retired Marine combat pilot Amy McGrath, who narrowly lost a 2018 congressional race. As the top-ranking Republican in Congress, McConnell is a lightning rod for Democrats across the country who want to see him ousted from the Senate. McGrath campaign spokesman Terry Sebastian cited Republican incumbent Matt Bevin's loss in this year's governor's race in his response to McConnell's reelection run. “Kentuckians just fired Matt Bevin for trying to take away health care from thousands of people and Sen. McConnell is next. For 35 years, he has done nothing but sell out hard-working families for his own personal political interests, and just like our former governor, McConnell will be retired this election,” Sebastian said in a statement. McConnell downplayed the role Trump's impeachment could have in next year's elections. “It seems like it may not play much of a role in the president's reelection campaign,' McConnell told reporters. “There's considerable anecdotal evidence that in the battleground states, it's not going over very well. The two articles of impeachment are pretty weak.' McConnell later said that if impeachment isn't popular in swing states, then “it's probably not a popular move in Kentucky.” Trump won Kentucky by a landslide in 2016 . Asked if he thinks impeachment will be an issue by next fall, McConnell replied: “I would doubt it.' After speaking with reporters, McConnell stopped by the governor's office to chat for a few minutes with Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who ousted Bevin in last month's election.
  • Bernie Sanders retracted his endorsement for online news personality Cenk Uygur in a California congressional race on Friday after coming under fire from supporters for backing someone who had made demeaning and controversial comments about women, Muslims and African Americans. “I hear my supporters who were frustrated and understand their concerns. Cenk today said he is rejecting all endorsements for his campaign and I retract my endorsement,” Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, said in a tweet. The Vermont senator endorsed Uygur the day before in the special election to replace former California Rep. Katie Hill. Uygur is facing off against at least nine other candidates, four of whom are Democrats. Uygur’s online news and commentary show, “The Young Turks,” has a strong progressive following, and Sanders had originally said the host was “a voice that we desperately need in Congress.” After Sanders went public with his endorsement, however, he faced backlash from progressives online who pointed to Uygur’s past controversial comments and questioned why Sanders was backing him. In one characteristic blog post, from 2000, Uygur wrote that “obviously, the genes of women are flawed. They are poorly designed creatures who do not want to have sex nearly as often as needed for the human race to get along peaceably and fruitfully.” Uygur also came under fire for using the N-word on his show multiple times; he acknowledged this week that “The Young Turks' had a policy of using the N-word when quoting racists as a means of mocking them but stopped after complaints. In 2012, he said orthodox Jews and Muslims are teaching their children things that are “Looney Tunes.” Before Sanders retracted his support, Uygur announced he would not accept any endorsements. In a statement, he thanked Sanders and others for supporting him because “their stance took real courage in the face of the corporate media and Democratic establishment onslaught.” But he said he had decided not to accept endorsements because “I will not be beholden to corporations, lobbyists or special interest groups, and I will not stand by while those groups attack my political allies.” The primary is scheduled for March 3. The general election for the 25th Congressional District, covering parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, is May 12.
  • Opponents of the Trump administration's plan to break up the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the country's public lands bureau are warning of a brain drain, saying many staffers who are being reassigned are opting to quit rather than move out West. U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt defended the move Friday. Opponents have projected that the number of Bureau of Land Management staffers agreeing to move from headquarters could be as low as 15%, which Bernhardt said was “not consistent with what I've seen.' Speaking at a Las Vegas conference on Colorado River water supplies, Bernhardt said he did not immediately have firmer figures, however. “A year from now ... you’re going to find out that it worked really well,' Bernhardt told reporters. The Trump administration says the plan will save taxpayers millions of dollars, lead to better, faster decisions and trim a “top heavy” office in Washington. Moving the bureau out of Washington is a long-cherished goal of Western state politicians who cite the preponderance of public lands in their part of the country and their lack of access to decision-makers. The deadline for most staffers to notify the land bureau, which is overseen by the Interior Department, whether they intended to move was Thursday. But the bureau had not yet compiled a count for how many staffers had so far agreed to relocate, spokesman Derrick Henry said. The bureau oversees about 388,000 square miles (1 million square kilometers) of public lands, the vast majority of it in the U.S. West. It issues permits for oil and gas drilling, mining and ranching, manages outdoor recreation and enforces environmental protections. Bernhardt has called for about 300 positions to be switched from Washington to other offices in 11 Western states, including Nevada, Arizona and Utah. About 25 will be going to the new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colorado. “What we’re going to see here is an incredible group of people,' Bernhardt said, citing the quality of resumes the bureau was getting for jobs opening in Grand Junction. “Some people will come. Some won’t come.” Several Democratic lawmakers and an organization of former land bureau employees, the Public Lands Foundation, are among those opposing the move. They argue that breaking up and moving the bureau’s headquarters staff across the American West would mean losing some of its most experienced employees. ”I think, frankly, it’s going to cripple the bureau for a long time,” said Henri Bisson, a former deputy director for the agency. With fewer career staffers in Washington to weigh in on management of federal lands, “it will result in decisions that are more political than they are resource-based,' Bisson said. Employees who agree to move have 120 days to report to their new posts. Bisson and other former bureau officials who are talking to employees said it appears the majority of reassigned staffers will leave instead. “Many of them are in families that have two careers, and their spouse can’t move. They have kids in high school. They have ailing parents they are taking care of,” said Kit Muller, who retired last year after 38 years with the bureau and is one of those projecting that fewer than half of reassigned staffers would move. “You can imagine the reasons.” Former bureau employee George Stone, director of the Public Lands Foundation, said the rationale that the move will give Western residents, county commissioners and elected officials better access to federal decision-makers doesn’t make sense because most of the agency's 10,000 employees are already in field offices outside Washington. Current staffer Dave Hu, a fisheries biologist, has been asked to move to a field office in Denver but has told the bureau he's trying to find a job with a different federal agency so he can stay in Washington. He hopes to have clarity in a few weeks, he said. Hu said he knows many colleagues have elderly parents, homes and children that make it difficult to move. “It’s not an ideal way to do business, but it’s an opportunity for me, and I think something will work out,” said Hu, who has been with the bureau for nearly seven years. “I’m a ‘fed,’ and that’s part of the deal I signed up for.” ___ McCombs reported from Salt Lake City. Associated Press reporter Ellen Knickmeyer contributed from Washington.
  • Melania Trump on Friday appeared to condone her husband's criticism of 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, saying through a spokeswoman that her 13-year-old son, Barron, is in a different category than the teenage climate activist “who travels the globe giving speeches.” “He is a 13-year-old who wants and deserves privacy,” spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in an emailed statement the day after President Donald Trump lashed out at Thunberg because Time magazine had named her “Person of the Year.” The first lady's apparent acceptance of her husband's actions stood in contrast to the work she's doing through her “Be Best” initiative to combat online bullying and teach children to be kind. The president tweeted Thursday that “Greta must work on her Anger Management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend!” He said it was “ridiculous” that Time had chosen her for the honor. Trump mocked the teenage activist, who has Asperger's syndrome, a week after the first lady tweeted angrily at Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan for mentioning Barron during her testimony as a Democratic witness at a House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing. “A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics. Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it,” Mrs. Trump tweeted. At one point during her testimony, Karlan said that while Trump can “name his son Barron, he can't make him a baron.” Karlan was trying to make a point that Trump is a president and not a king. At the end of the hearing, Karlan apologized for the comment. Grisham said the first lady will continue to use “Be Best' to help children. “It is no secret that the president and first lady often communicate differently — as most married couples do,” Grisham said. Former first lady Michelle Obama encouraged Thunberg, saying, “don't let anyone dim your light,” Mrs. Obama wrote on Twitter from Vietnam, where she was traveling this week. “Like the girls I've met in Vietnam and all over the world, you have so much to offer us all,' she wrote. “Ignore the doubters and know that millions of people are cheering you on.” ___ Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap
  • The Supreme Court said Friday it will hear President Donald Trump's pleas to keep his tax, bank and financial records private, a major confrontation between the president and Congress that also could affect the 2020 presidential campaign. Arguments will take place in late March, and the justices are poised to issue decisions in June as Trump is campaigning for a second term. Rulings against the president could result in the quick release of personal financial information that Trump has sought strenuously to keep private. The court also will decide whether the Manhattan district attorney can obtain eight years of Trump's tax returns as part of an ongoing criminal investigation. The subpoenas are separate from the ongoing impeachment proceedings against Trump, headed for a vote in the full House next week. Indeed, it's almost certain the court won't hear the cases until after a Senate trial over whether to remove Trump has ended. Trump sued to prevent banks and accounting firms from complying with subpoenas for his records from three committees of the House of Representatives and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. In three separate cases, he has so far lost at every step, but the records have not been turned over pending a final court ruling. Now it will be up to a court that includes two Trump appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, to decide in a case with significant implications reagrding a president's power to refuse a formal request from Congress. In two earlier cases over presidential power, the justices acted unanimously in requiring President Richard Nixon to turn over White House tapes to the Watergate special prosecutor and in allowing a sexual harassment lawsuit against President Bill Clinton to go forward. In those cases, three Nixon appointees and two Clinton appointees, respectively, voted against the president who chose them for the high court. A fourth Nixon appointee, William Rehnquist, sat out the tapes case because he had worked closely as a Justice Department official with some of the Watergate conspirators whose upcoming trial spurred the subpoena for the Oval Office recordings. In none of the cases are the subpoenas directed at Trump himself. Instead, House committees want records from Deutsche Bank and Capital One, as well as the Mazars USA accounting firm. Mazars also is the recipient of Vance's subpoena. In each case, Vance and House Democrats have argued there is no compelling legal issue at stake, since they are seeking records from third parties, not Trump himself. But Trump said in his appeals that the cases are the first time congressional and local criminal investigators have tried to pry free a president's records to investigate wrongdoing. “This is a case of firsts,” Trump's lawyers told the justices about congressional demands for Trump's financial records from Mazars. The Vance case represents the first time in American history that a “state or local prosecutor has launched a criminal investigation of the President,” the lawyers wrote. Appellate courts in Washington, D.C., and New York brushed aside the Trump arguments in decisions that focused on the subpoenas being addressed to third parties and asking for records of Trump's business and financial dealings as a private citizen, not as president. Two congressional committees subpoenaed the bank documents as part their investigations into Trump and his businesses. Deutsche Bank has been one for the few banks willing to lend to Trump after a series of corporate bankruptcies and defaults starting in the early 1990s. Vance and the House Oversight and Reform Committee sought records from Mazars concerning Trump and his businesses based on payments that Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, arranged to keep two women from airing their claims of affairs with Trump during the presidential race.

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  • Police in Jacksonville Beach are investigating after more than a dozen cars were broken into over the course of a few days. It started last weekend along 5th Street South where several of those burglaries took place.  Police reports said there were 14 burglaries that happened Saturday through Monday.  Joseph Rennie said he’s hoping this weekend they don’t see a repeat.  “All in all, this is a pretty safe neighborhood. But occasionally, you have things like this happen and come up, but it’s definitely a little bit unnerving,” Rennie said.  Police said someone was going around smashing out windows of vehicles and looking for valuables inside. Wallets, credit and debit cards were taken.  Some people had nothing taken, but were left with a broken window. It happened to 6 cars on 5th Street, 4 cars on 12th, and several others on the surrounding blocks.  Rennie, like many others who live in the area, said he’s thankful he wasn’t a victim, but was surprised it happened to so many people in the area.  “There is a sense of just making sure you’re being smart about it, not leaving stuff of value in your car, kind of anywhere. But yeah, its really unfortunate to see that that’s happened, especially around the holiday season,” Rennie said.  As always, police are urging people not to leave valuables in their cars.
  • Florida, along with 29 other states, has been accepted for membership into the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), according to Governor Ron DeSantis' office. ERIC is a multi-state partnership that uses a data-matching tool to help enhance election security and make voter rolls more accurate.  The governor's office says through ERIC, member states can share information from voter registration systems, motor vehicle databases, social security death records, and US Post Office records, to help identify voters who have moved, passed away, or changed their name.  Additionally, the governor's office says ERIC will help boost voter registration as it will provide member states better information on how to contact potentially eligible, but unregistered voters.  Governor DeSantis says he has set aside an estimated $1.3 million in his 2020-2021 recommend budget to conduct outreach to these unregistered voters with a direct mailer prior to the 2020 general election.  But the governor's office says Florida's full participation in ERIC will be contingent on the state legislature signing off on his budget. Being a member of ERIC requires annual dues of around $75,000.
  • In response to a smash-and-grab burglary at a Fernandina Beach gun store where thieves stole 57 guns in 60 seconds, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the National Shooting Sports Foundation announced a reward of up to $5,000 for tips leading to the arrest of suspects or recovery of stolen guns. The burglary happened Sunday, Dec. 8 at TNT Firearms and Accessories off State Road 200 in Nassau County.  Security footage shows 3 suspects smash through a glass door before breaking glass display cases and ransacking the store of 57 rifles and handguns.  The ATF is offering a reward of up to $2,500, which will be matched by the NSSF for a total of up to $5,000.  The ATF and NSSF are working together in a national campaign to fund rewards in cases involving guns being stolen from federally licensed dealers.
  • A Virginia mother is wanted on abduction charges after authorities say she took her four children on vacation six months ago and never brought them home. The woman alleges she is saving the children from sex trafficking by their father and grandfather. Along with four misdemeanor abduction charges, Melody Bannister, 34, of Stafford, is charged with felony violation of a court order and filing a false police report, a news release from the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office said. A warrant was issued for her arrest Aug. 23, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Her children are identified as Genevieve Bannister, 13; Janelle Bannister, 12; Vivienne Bannister, 11; and Peter Bannister, 7. Genevieve is described as 5 feet, 3 inches tall and 110 pounds with brown hair and hazel eyes, according to the NCMEC. Janelle is described as 5 feet, 1 inch tall and 115 pounds. Like her older sister, she has brown hair and hazel eyes. Vivienne is listed as 4 feet, 11 inches tall and weighing 95 pounds with brown hair and blue eyes. Peter is described as 4 feet, 1 inch tall and 90 pounds. He also brown hair and blue eyes. Bannister is described as 5 feet, 2 inches tall and 110 pounds. Like her two youngest children, she has brown hair and blue eyes. The children and their mother were last known to be traveling in a blue-green 2002 Honda Odyssey with Virginia license plate number VBH7123, Stafford County Sheriff’s Office Detective James Wright said during a segment about the case on “Live PD” on A&E. Finding Bannister and the children has become more urgent after “recent developments in the investigation have led investigators to believe the children may now be in danger,” the Sheriff’s Office’s statement said. Wright, who is lead investigator on the case, said on “Live PD” that authorities believe the missing family might be in danger due to the “clandestine nature” of the religious organization they belong to. “We’re concerned about the welfare because they are unable to take care of themselves. They don’t have any means to take care of them. Melody doesn’t have means to take care of them,” Wright told host Tom Morris Jr. Sheriff’s Office spokesman Amanda Vicinanzo said investigators believe Bannister has had help along the way from members of a religious group of which she is purportedly a member, according to the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg. The newspaper reported that the family’s pets, a white Great Pyrenees dog and white ragdoll cat, were left at one of the stops Bannister has made since leaving Virginia. “After months on the road, we had to say goodbye to our beloved pets: Our giant, bounding bundle of puppy-faced joy and our fluffy cat, whose soothing whirr often assuaged our soreness of heart,” Bannister wrote on her blog. “It is a comfort to know they are in good, loving hands, since they can no longer be in ours.” “Live PD” pointed out that Bannister has written about her religion previously, describing it as a “cult.” According to a blog she began in 2016 called Lady Adelaide’s Realm, Bannister grew up in a Quiverfull household. Followers of the Quiverfull movement believe that the men with the most children will earn the most favor from God. They shun all forms of contraception, believing that it is only God who “opens and closes the womb,” follower Kelly Swanson told NPR in 2009. The movement advocates stringent gender roles, and women are not allowed to question their husbands’ authority. They cannot work outside the home, wear pants or cut their hair. According to some of Bannister’s friends -- and a second blog the missing woman appears to have written since going on the run with her children -- the danger toward the children lies not with their mother, but in their father’s home. Bannister’s blog devoted to the allegations is subtitled “American Outlaws: The Plight of Child Sex Trafficking Victims Living Underground.” Her most recent blog post on Lady Adelaide’s Realm, dated June 28, names six men, including her father-in-law, as her children’s alleged abusers. The men are not being named because they have not been charged with a crime. ‘Will justice triumph over lawlessness this Christmas?’ A Change.org petition begging for help from Virginia and Alabama officials claims that the children’s father “conspired with (Bannister’s) father-in-law to perpetuate some of the most horrifying sexual and physical abuse imaginable upon her children.” “When local law enforcement failed to protect these children, ordering them back to live with their abuser, Melody chose to live on the wrong side of the law. What else could a truly desperate mother do?” the petition reads. Bannister has accused her husband of “deliver(ing) the children up for torture to the barn of his father.” She has accused her father-in-law of not only sexually abusing the children, but of offering them up for abuse by his friends. “The children have spoken of being given strange substances in the barn that made the world swim before their eyes and caused the taunting faces of their abusers to converge together in a dizzying blur,” Bannister wrote. She wrote on the blog that her only crimes were “believing (her) children when they disclosed a lifetime of ongoing abuse” and “reporting (it) to the Stafford, Virginia, police.” Stafford County officials said that an investigation into the allegations brought to them by Bannister in June found no evidence of abuse against the children. “A joint investigation with Stafford County law enforcement and Child Protective Services determined the allegations were unfounded,” according to the statement from the Sheriff’s Office. “Shortly after the conclusion of the investigation, Bannister left Virginia with the children on a planned vacation and never returned.” Bannister wrote on her blog that she and the children left town for a vacation June 14, the day after she reported the abuse, in part out of fear of reprisal from the accused. She said she called the Sheriff’s Office detective, Wright, a few days later to check up on the investigation. “We spoke briefly once, when he told me that he had interviewed my husband and would soon interview my father-in-law,” Bannister wrote. “After that, he stopped answering my phone calls.” She wrote that Wright and a CPS caseworker chalked the sex abuse claims up to children’s “vivid imaginations.” She described fleeing Virginia with the “rancid hot breath of child predators” on her back. “We left home with barely a week’s worth of summer clothes and are practically penniless, living off the kindness of friends who, one by one, have taken us under their wings,” Bannister wrote. She said her husband drained their joint bank account and cancelled her credit cards when she did not bring the children back to Virginia. Read Bannister’s entire, five-part blog here. Warning: It includes graphic details of alleged child sex abuse. Stafford County’s Juvenile, Domestic and Relations Court granted sole custody of the children to their father the following month, Stafford County authorities said. Their father, identified in court records as William Joseph Bannister, filed for divorce last month. “(Melody) Bannister refused to return the children and subsequently petitioned the courts in Alabama requesting custody be issued to her there,” a Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said. “The courts in Alabama heard the case and also ordered Bannister to return her children to their father back in Virginia. “Bannister absconded from the state of Alabama with her four children and has not been seen since.” Bannister and the children were last seen Aug. 20 in Moulton, a small city in northwest Alabama. “We set up residence in Alabama and made it our new home, where we obtained a protective order against the man formerly known as Daddy,” Bannister wrote on her blog. “This was swiftly snatched away when the judge deferred to the Virginia ruling, which ordered me to return the children to him.” Bannister wrote that a family court hearing was held in Virginia without her presence Aug. 19, with a judge ruling in her husband’s favor. She claimed she was never served with a summons for the hearing. She and the children vanished from Alabama the next day. US marshals issue alert Aside from Alabama, potential sightings of the family have been reported in Wisconsin, Colorado, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas. The U.S. Marshals Service and the NCMEC have been involved in the case over the past few months, the Sheriff’s Office said. The Marshals Service issued an alert this week seeking help from the public in finding Bannister and the missing children. A friend of Bannister, Julie Lampkins, shared a story on Facebook about the missing family, saying it was “with a heavy heart” that she shared the link about the mother’s alleged abduction of her children. “We all have questions, but no answers,” Lampkins wrote. “Help the authorities find her and her (four) kids.” Meanwhile, Bannister is appealing for help on the state and federal levels, according to the Change.org petition. It quoted additional portions of Bannister’s blog. “The mental health and credibility of my children and me have been assessed and verified by two of the most prestigious forensic psychiatrists in the country: Dr. Michael Stone and Dr. Carole Lieberman,” Bannister wrote on her blog. “Naturally, the abusers did not take kindly to such a development and are seeking to have the reports stricken from the record. ‘Eliminate all threats’ seems to be their motto. Hence our position of living underground.” Followers on her blog wrote this week that they believed her and her children. “Many people believe you and are praying and sharing the news and asking God to vindicate and protect. Praying that true justice will be served,” Carrie Brownell wrote. A friend, identified as Lana, told Bannister she was praying for her, as well as sharing her story and contacting a list of law enforcement officers listed on the blog on Bannister’s behalf. Another friend named Rachael offered similar well wishes. “Oh Melody…my heart is so broken for you and your sweet kids,” the woman wrote. “I will be keeping you in my prayers and doing what I can. Locally.” A third friend named Petra Carden wrote that Bannister and her children have a place in her home “any time, day or night, no questions asked” if Bannister has to return to Virginia. Others who read her story offered her help in other locations throughout the country, including Alabama, where she and the children were last seen. Many people who believe Bannister’s allegations of abuse urged caution in reporting the family’s whereabouts. “If the news articles released regarding Melody Bannister’s children being in danger is all people know, they will report them when they see them and put them back in danger,” one woman wrote on Twitter. A cult? Bannister’s Facebook profile lists her as manager of a website called Recovering Daughters. The description of the site on its corresponding Facebook page states it is about “healing from Vision Forum, authoritarianism and the Quiverfull Movement.” The Recovering Daughters website is no longer available because the domain has recently expired. Vision Forum was a Texas-based ministry that promoted a patriarchal lifestyle, in which the husband rules the family, and home-schooling its children. The ministry was shut down by its board in 2013 after leader Doug Phillips admitted to an extramarital affair, the Huffington Post reported. Phillips has been a friend of and influence on Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, whose TLC show “19 Kids and Counting” focused on their beliefs against birth control and that large families are a gift from God, the news site said. The Duggars, who lost their show after their eldest son, Josh Duggar, was publicly accused of sexually molesting multiple young girls, including some of his sisters, have also been associated with the Quiverfull movement, though the Huffington Post reported in 2015 that the couple does not formally consider themselves members of the movement. The Quiverfull movement gets its name from a Bible passage: “Children are a heritage from the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is His reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.” Hännah Ettinger, a young woman raised in the movement who had left that world behind, told Cosmopolitan in 2015 that her first big break from the religion came when her father told her she “didn’t have the spiritual discernment” to choose her own boyfriend, a man she met at her Christian college. “Later, I got utterly fed up with the churches I’d grown up in because I kept finding out that they’d protected child abusers, rapists, and men who’d beaten their wives, all in the name of redemption stories, ‘biblical’ male headship and complementarian theology,” Ettinger told the magazine. Vyckie Garrison, another former Quiverfull member, told Vice in 2016 that, with no central leader, the movement isn’t a cult, per se. It’s more of a mindset “in which each family becomes a cult unto itself with Daddy enshrined as the supreme patriarch,” Vice reported. Garrison founded a website called No Longer Quivering, which is designed to help other women in her situation escape the movement. In April 2015, the American Atheists Convention named her its 2014 Atheist of the Year. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Bannister and her children is asked to call the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office at 540-658-4400, the U.S. Marshals Service at 877-WANTED2 or the NCMEC at 800-THE-LOST.
  • Money is helping put local veterans in Northeast Florida back to work. Hundreds of people filled the inside of a warehouse at a former Navy base to celebrate a milestone.  It was 20 years ago when the U.S. Navy handed over ownership of Cecil Field Naval Air Station to the city of Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Aviation Authority.  The air station is now being operated by Boeing Global Services.  Friday, Boeing made a $55,000 check presentation to Veterans Florida to help put local veterans back to work.  Samuel Leeca is a Navy veteran and was one of the first people hired by Boeing back in 1999.  “We first only had one aircraft. Then they started filtering in. It was rough at first, but then we started to get it rolling,” said Samuel Leeca.  “When I see the Blue Angels, I don’t even bother anymore because I was sharing with someone that all 6 of them, I’ve physically touched them. I’ve physically put the cell in and taken it out,” Leeca explained.  Boeing Cecil Field site leader Warren Helm says the site is one of the most successful closed bases in the country.  “We have a great mix about 70% veterans on this site. It’s a great mix between people who have been here since day one,” Helm said.  Leeca says after working here for over 20 years, he heads a team of mostly young people who disassemble and repair aircraft.  “I just look at it as, not so much someone has to do it, but someone always did it. We live in a world now where it is so dangerous, I said, ‘I can’t leave them, I have to keep going to help the newer guys keep the jets flying,’” said Leeca.

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